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The types we will discuss here are: alpha, beta, and gamma (listed in increasing ability to penetrate matter).
Alpha decay is seen only in heavier elements greater than atomic number 52, tellurium.
In 1896, the French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel accidentally found that a uranium-rich mineral called pitchblende emitted invisible, penetrating rays that could darken a photographic plate enclosed in an opaque envelope.
While working on phosphorescent materials, he happened to place the pitchblende on black paper that he had used to cover a piece of ﬁlm.
Since all of these factors affect electrons in an atom, the radiation cannot come from electron transitions, as atomic spectra do.
In 1898, Marie Curie began her doctoral study of Becquerel’s rays.
This means that rays carry energy, but pitchblende emits them continuously without any energy input.
This is an apparent violation of the law of conservation of energy.
Radium became highly desirable because it was about two million times as radioactive as uranium.Shortly after Marie completed her Ph D, both Curies and Becquerel shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on radioactivity.Awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of two new elements, Curie remains the only person to win Nobel Prizes in both physics and chemistry.Marie’s radioactive fingerprints on some pages of her notebooks can still expose film.Marie suffered from radiation-induced lesions and died of leukemia, likely caused by radiation.