Chemistry & Physics

[Becquerel, Henri] Barker, George F. | Radio-Activity and Chemistry & Radioactivity of Thorium Minerals

  • From the library of the Nobel Prize-winning discoverer of radioactivity Henri Becquerel, two rare early offprints on radioactivity by the American physicist George F. Barker, presentation copies inscribed by him to Becquerel.

    George F. Barker (1835-1910) was a prominent researcher during the last half of the nineteenth-century, holding positions at the Yale Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania. He was an editor at the American Journal of Science (the oldest scientific journal in America) and the Journal of the Franklin Institute, and he served as president of the American Chemical Society and vice-president of the American Philosophical Society. Barker's interests were wide-ranging, from the telephone and light-bulb to astronomy and spectroscopy, and he was well known for his ability to present complex scientific concepts in engaging and accessible ways to the general public. His most significant publication was the textbook Elementary Chemistry: Theoretical and Inorganic. First published in 1870, it "ran through many editions as well as translations into other languages. This was the first book in our language in which modern chemistry was presented systematically" (Smith, "George Frederick Barker", National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir).

    Among his many accomplishments, Barker was "the first person to exhibit radium in this country (1894) after its isolation by Madame Curie in Paris. Radioactivity appealed so strongly to him, that it is not surprising to find a paper of his on 'Radio-activity of Thorium Minerals'... In this communication, the author introduces a number of original contributions. He repeated the experiments of Hofmann and Zerban, relative to the radioactivity of Brazilian monazite, which contains no uranium, and confirmed the results of these observers, to wit: that the thorium from this monazite is probably radioactive. From a series of experiments, he further concluded that thorium emanation rapidly decays, falling to one-half its value in one minute, while that of the radium emanation retains its active properties for several weeks".

    The second volume presented here is "A very instructive address upon 'Radio-activity in Chemistry'... delivered by Dr. Barker before the Chemical Society of Columbia University; it appeared in full in the School of Mines Quarterly (xxiv, 267). It has historical value, and will prove helpful to all wishing to familiarize themselves with the subject. It is accomplished with bibliographies covering ninety titles by the most prominent investigators in this particular field of research" (Smith).

    Barker's scientific correspondence was expansive, and he counted Marie Curie among his friends. His work on radioactivity was undertaken early in the history of the field, only a few years after Becquerel discovered the phenomenon in 1896. These two offprints comprise the complete set of his original publications on radioactivity, and they are inscribed to Becquerel in the same year that Becquerel won the Nobel Prize. A very nice association set.

  • Radio-Activity and Chemistry. New York: The School of Mines Quarterly, 1903. 35 pages bound in grey paper wrappers printed in black. Illustrations throughout the text. Library ticket to upper wrapper, tick marks in pencil to the final three pages of the bibliography at the rear. Vertical crease from folding affecting the entire volume, some wear to tail of spine, wrappers lightly toned along the edges. Very good condition. Inscribed by Barker on the upper wrapper, "With compliments of the Author".

    Radioactivity of Thorium Minerals. [New Haven, CT:] 8 pages bound in grey paper wrappers printed in black. Library ticket to upper wrapper. Horizontal crease from folding affecting the entire volume. Wrappers a little tanned with some scratches and creasing. A very good copy. Inscribed by Barker on the upper wrapper, "Compliments of the Author".