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Becquerel Curie

Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) was a French physicist and Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934) was a Polish and
winner of the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. Becquerel was born in naturalized-French physicist and chemist. Curie was a pioneer in
Paris, France on December 15, 1852. He was the son of a professor researching radioactivity, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in
of applied physics, Alexander Becquerel. 1903 and Chemistry in 1911. Curie never worked on the
Manhattan Project, but her contributions to the study of radium
He began his studies in 1872 at École Polytechnique just south of and radiation were instrumental to the future development of the
Paris. After a couple of years, he began working for the French atomic bomb.
government’s Department of Roads and Bridges. In 1894, he was
appointed chief engineer of the department. Becquerel received a EARLY YEARS
Doctor of Science degree in 1888. He later became Professor of Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 7, 1867, which
Applied Physics in the Department of Natural History at the Paris was then part of the Russian Empire. University education for
Museum, a post his father had held previously. In 1895, he was women was not available in Russia at the time, so Curie left to
appointed Professor at École Polytechnique. pursue her degrees at the University of Paris in 1891. The
beginning of her scientific career was an investigation of the
SCIENTIFIC CONTRIBUTIONS magnetic properties of various steels. In Paris, she also met her
In 1896, Becquerel discovered natural radioactivity. Earlier that husband Pierre Curie. While she tried to return to work in Poland
year, German physicist, Wilhelm Röntgen discovered x-rays. A in 1894, she was denied a place at Krakow University because of
type of phosphorescence had been present in vacuum tubes during her gender and returned to Paris to pursue her Ph.D.
Röntgen’s experiment. This caused Becquerel to wonder if there
was any link between x-rays and naturally occurring SCIENTIFIC CONTRIBUTIONS
phosphorescence. He conducted an experiment on uranium salts, Adopting the study of Henri Becquerel's discovery of radiation in
which he inherited from his father. He hypothesized that the uranium as her thesis topic, Curie began the systematic study of
uranium would absorb light and reemit it as x-rays. He put the other elements to see if there were others that also emitted this
uranium on photographic plates. He developed the plates and strange energy. Within days she discovered that thorium also
observed that the uranium had, in fact, emitting radiation similar to emitted radiation, and further, that the amount of radiation
x-rays. depended upon the amount of element present in the compound.
Thus, she deduced that radioactivity does not depend on how
However, on a cloudy day in March, Becquerel decided to develop atoms are arranged into molecules, but rather that it originates
photographic plates of uranium that had not been exposed to within the atoms themselves. This discovery is perhaps her most
sunlight. He found that even without contact to sunlight, the important scientific contribution. For their joint research into
uranium was emitting radiation. While Becquerel initially believed radioactivity, Marie and Pierre Curie were awarded the 1903
the rays he was observing were similar to x-rays, further Nobel Prize in Physics.
experiments should that unlike x-rays, the magnetic and electric
fields of these rays could be deflected. Becquerel had, in fact, As a team, the Curies would go on to even greater scientific
discovered radioactivity. discoveries. In 1898, they announced the discovery of two new
elements, radium and polonium. Isolating pure samples of these
In 1903, Becquerel received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his elements was exhausting work for Marie; it took four years of
research on radioactivity along with Pierre and Marie Curie. back-breaking effort to extract 1 decigram of radium chloride
from several tons of raw ore. In 1906, Pierre was killed in a traffic
He died in Le Croisic, France on August 25, 1908. accident. Marie carried on their research and was appointed to fill
Pierre's position at the Sorbonne, thus becoming the first woman
in France to achieve professorial rank. In 1911, Marie won her
second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, for isolating pure
radium.

LATER YEARS
During World War I, Curie served as the director of the Red
Cross Radiology Service, treating over an estimated one million
soldiers with her X-ray units. She traveled to the United States in
1921 to tour and raise funds for research on radium. She returned
to Poland for the foundation laying ceremony for the Radium
Institute, which opened in 1932 with her sister Bronislawa as its
director.

Curie died in 1934 of radiation-induced leukemia, since the


effects of radiation were not known when she began her studies.
In 1995, her and Pierre's remains were moved to the Panthéon, the
French National Mausoleum, in Paris. She was the first woman to
receive that honor on her own merit.

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