In 1896 French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel discovered uranium’s spontaneous radioactivity. He had been experimenting with photographic plates and phosphorescent illumination as a result of being exposed to sunlight. Becquerel discovered that uranium had the ability to produce silhouettes on the photographic plates without exposure to sunlight (see image below).
The discovery of radiation revealed a previously unknown source of energy and led to Becquerel’s shared 1903 Nobel Peace Prize in physics with Marie and Pierre Curie.
Scientists continued research into uses for uranium and how to harness the power of radiation. It was only a matter of decades that atomic science unlocked the secret capabilities of uranium and introduced the world to nuclear fission and the nuclear weapon.
In the next segment we will begin exploring the atomic structure of uranium.