[bek-uh-rel; Fr. bekuh-rel]
Becquerel, family of French physicists. Antoine César Becquerel, 1788-1878, was a pioneer in electrochemical science. He was professor of physics at the Muséum d'Histoire naturelle from 1838 until his death. Becquerel made a special study of the voltaic cell, telegraphy, and magnetism and wrote several books on these subjects. His second son, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, 1820-91, succeeded his father, in 1878, as professor at the Muséum d'Histoire naturelle. Known for his studies in light, photochemistry, and phosphorescence (for which he invented the phosphoroscope), Alexandre wrote La Lumière, ses causes et ses effets (1867-68). His son, Antoine Henri Becquerel, 1852-1908, was professor at the École polytechnique, Paris, from 1895. He studied atmospheric polarization and the influence of the earth's magnetism on the atmosphere. In 1896 he discovered radioactivity in uranium; the Curies made further investigations of the phenomenon and shared with Becquerel the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics (see Curie, family).

The becquerel (symbol Bq) is the SI derived unit of radioactivity. 1 Bq is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. It is therefore equivalent to s-1. The becquerel is named for Henri Becquerel, who shared a Nobel Prize with Pierre and Marie Curie for their work in discovering radioactivity.

In a fixed mass of radioactive material, the number of becquerels changes with time. Therefore, a sample radioactive decay rate is always stated with a timestamp for short-lived isotopes, sometimes after adjustment to some specific date of interest (in the past or in the future). For example, one might quote a ten-day adjusted figure, that is, the amount of radioactivity that will still be present ten days in the future. This can de-emphasize short-lived isotopes.

SI uses the becquerel rather than the second for the unit of activity measure to avoid dangerous mistakes: a measurement in becquerels is proportional to activity, and thus a more dangerous source of radiation gives a higher reading. A measurement in seconds is inversely proportional. As any SI unit, Bq can be prefixed; commonly used multiples are kBq (kilobecquerel, 103 Bq), MBq (megabecquerel, 106 Bq), and GBq (gigabecquerel, 109 Bq).

When measuring radioactivity of a sample with a detector, a unit of "counts per second" (cps) or "counts per minute" (cpm) are often used. These units can be converted to the absolute activity of the sample in Bq if one applies a number of significant conversions, e.g., for the radiation background, for the detector efficiency, for the counting geometry, for self-absorption of the radiation in the sample.

The becquerel can be used for the frequency of aperiodic or stochastic events; for periodic events, the hertz, which is also defined as s–1, is used as unit.

Relationship to the curie

The curie (Ci) is an older, non-SI unit of radioactivity.


1 Bq = 1 s–1

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