ADVANTAGES

Becquerel’s discovery on its own would certainly not have merited a Nobel Prize only a few years later. The Curies needed his discovery in order to achieve what they did, but Becquerel needed their work for his discovery to be so highly honored. A few months after Roentgen’s discovery of X rays, Becquerel accidentally discovered that a uranium ore sample gave off emissions that fogged photographic plates even without their being exposed to light. He reported this discovery to the French Academy of Sciences in February 1896, but he did not follow up on it, and few scientists paid much attention to it. Among the reasons Marie Curie chose this serendipitous discovery as her thesis topic was precisely the fact that she would have no competitors in the field, with the added bonus that there was no lengthy bibliography of scientific articles that she would have to read in preparation. She could get her hands dirty in her lab right away, without months spent in a library.

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