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    Sale 7548

    Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books

    12 November 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 52

    BECQUEREL, Antoine-Henri (1852-1908). Autograph manuscript signed of a draft paper entitled 'La Radioactivité de la matière par M[onsieur] Henri Becquerel', n.p. [Paris], n.d. [1901], including numerous cancellations and emendations, bibliographical references jotted at the foot, written on lined paper, 6 pages, folio (350 x 225mm), of which one is an earlier draft of the first page (some marginal soiling, small tear in bottom right corner of one leaf ).

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    BECQUEREL, Antoine-Henri (1852-1908). Autograph manuscript signed of a draft paper entitled 'La Radioactivité de la matière par M[onsieur] Henri Becquerel', n.p. [Paris], n.d. [1901], including numerous cancellations and emendations, bibliographical references jotted at the foot, written on lined paper, 6 pages, folio (350 x 225mm), of which one is an earlier draft of the first page (some marginal soiling, small tear in bottom right corner of one leaf ).

    BECQUEREL'S ACCOUNT OF HIS DISCOVERY OF RADIOACTIVITY: 'Au commencement de l'année 1896 en réalisant diverses expériences avec les sels d'uranium dont j'avais étudié depuis longtemps les propriétés optiques exceptionnelles, j'ai obtenu que ces sels émettaient un rayonnement qui traverse les corps opaques pour la lumière, et les métaux, de même que le verre, et d'autres substances transparentes, qui impressionne une plaque photographique, et décharge à distance les corps électrisés. Ce rayonnement ne paraît influencé par aucune cause extérieure connue; il est entièrement différent de la phosphorescence, ne s'affaiblit pas d'une manière appréciable avec le temps, même au bout de plusieurs années, et est émis spontanément sans cause excitatrice apparente'. The new radiation, he continues, is not subject to reflection, refraction or polarisation: uranium radiation dissipates with equal speed positive or negative electrical charges. In his resumé Becquerel also mentions the research of his contemporaries before 1900, including Lord Kelvin, Beattie, Thomson and particularly Pierre and Marie Curie (his pupil) whom he credits with the important discovery of new chemical elements including their extraction of polonium and radium, and the penetrating rays of thorium.

    Becquerel's most significant discoveries were made early in 1896 when Rontgen's discovery of X-rays prompted him to enquire whether they might be associated with phosphorescence. His critical powers led him from this to the discovery of the radioactivity inherent in uranium, and in 1896-1897 he published nine papers on his experiments. In 1901-1902 Becquerel gave numerous papers and lectures on aspects of radiation to the Academy of Science in Paris and lectured in London and Berlin. The present draft, apparently intended for publication, closely resembles the text of his similarly titled paper published (in English translation) in Nature, 21 February 1901 (vol. LXIII, page 396). For his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity Becquerel was awarded one half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. The other half was awarded jointly to Pierre and Marie Curie for their study of the Becquerel radiation.


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