Physics in Perspective

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 63–99

The Window of Opportunity: Logic and Chance in Becquerel's Discovery of Radioactivity

  • Nahum S. Kipnis

DOI: 10.1007/s000160050037

Cite this article as:
Kipnis, N. Phys. perspect. (2000) 2: 63. doi:10.1007/s000160050037


The discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel is frequently called serendipitous, because on March 1, 1896, he developed “unexposed” photographic plates, which he had kept near a uranium salt, and found dark images on them. I show that Becquerel's discovery was a process in which, even in its early stage in 1896, chance entered in a number of episodes, and that his discovery resulted from a complex interaction of logic and chance.

Key words. Radioactivity, X rays, H. Becquerel, Röntgen, S.P. Thompson, logic, chance, discovery.

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel, 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nahum S. Kipnis
    • 1
  1. 1.3200 Virginia Avenue South, #304 Minneapolis, MN 55426, USA, e-mail: nahumk@uswest.netUS