Keep my session open?
Ending In 
The session is expired
Your session has expired. For your security, we have logged you out.
Would you like to log in again?

March 2014 Science News & History

Radioactivity Discovered by Henri Becquerel in 1896

118 years ago in late February, French scientist Henri Becquerel was hard at work in his lab studying phosphorescent emissions stimulated by the Sun. After exposing uranium-bearing crystals to sunlight and placing them on a photographic plate, he correctly hypothesized that the crystal would produce its image on the plate. However, like any good scientist, he wanted to investigate his theory further. As the sun went down and the clouds set in, he placed his uranium sample and photographic plate in a drawer for another day.

Over the next few cloudy days, Becquerel was unable to do any work without a source of sunlight – so his materials continued to sit untouched in his drawer.

Finally on March 1, the sun came out and Becquerel was eager to get back to work. When he went to retrieve his materials, he was shocked to discover the uranium crystal had already left a clear, strong image on the plate – without any exposure to sunlight, or energy source to produce the image!

Although Becquerel attributed this reaction to “spontaneous emissions by the uranium” and did not pursue his findings any further at the time, what he had in fact discovered was radioactivity.

Pierre and Marie CurieYears later, Marie and Pierre Curie became interested in Becquerel’s discovery, and decided to explore further. While experimenting with their own uranium-containing ore, they coined the term "radioactivity" to describe the resulting decay caused by the spontaneous emissions that they studied. Further investigation led them to discover how different types of decay produced different types of radiation, and that other chemical elements besides uranium contained radioactive isotopes. This led to the Curies’ isolation of two new elements, polonium and barium.

In 1903, Becquerel and the Curies together received the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of radioactivity and other contributions to this area.

The discoveries of these early scientists paved the way for new techniques to determine the age of the Earth, and more.


Explore Radioactivity with these Activities & Resources:

Ward’s Radioactive Decay Cubes Lab Activity



Learn More
Ward’s Half-Life Property of a Radioactive Element Lab Activity


Learn More
Introduction to Radioactivity and Half-Life Experiment


Learn More
Nuclear Science, History and Fate, Fusion and Fundamental Particles Charts


Learn More
The Plus is Us.

Have a question about our radioactivity products, or need help finding products for any science subject to meet your curriculum requirements? Our in-house scientists and educators are here to help, from our science lab to yours. Just email or call 866-260-0501 for one-on-one support.

Learn more and see how the Ward’s Science Plus Us team has helped real teachers like you!