Monday, March 12, 2012

Penetrative Insight

[continued in part from here]

Henri Becquerel and Marie Curie didn't understand the new type of rays they discovered--they just knew it was different. Unlike X-rays, the radiant energy could not be switched on and off (this is what Marie Curie meant by her term "radioactivity"-- something actively giving off rays).

The first clue to understanding radiation came from observing what it took to stop it. Like Roentgen did with X-rays before him, Rutherford also did in a systematic way. He discovered that opaque paper stopped some rays--and these he called alpha rays. A second more powerful ray escaped from behind paper sheathing but was stopped by thin metal foil or glass--these he called beta rays. A third class could be wrapped in many layers of different material and still the radiation leaked through--he called these gamma rays.  A student named Geiger invented the eponymous "Geiger counter" which enabled a facile detection and quantification of these studies.

Only later did he and others figure out that alpha rays were actually alpha particles and that beta rays were really electrons and that gamma rays were like x-rays but more powerful. The juxtaposition of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation gives a nice depiction of radiation being both particle and wave in nature:


  1. I'm troubled by the dual nature of the word "eponymous". It seems that the standard dictionaries specify your usage (a thing which is named after someone) as acceptable, but the first meaning is the person after which something is named. So, apparently, it's equally correct to refer to "the eponymous Geiger counter" as it is to refer to "the eponymous Hans Geiger." This bothers me.

    The word "namesake" is similarly troublesome.

    I try to stick to this meaning, even though the examples used at the bottom of the entry to demonstrate proper use don't conform to that strict definition.

    I'd like to invent the word "neonym" to refer to "Geiger counter" and "eponym" to refer to Herr Geiger.

    Then "namesake" could be reserved for "a person named after another person," since "eponym" would apply quite handily to the person after whom someone was named, and clarity would reign in this area.

  2. See revision. Happy now? Words are a dime a dozen. But thanks for your comment. I do value them.
    neonym? meh. I'm not into onymism link

  3. I should have written "A student named Geiger invented the eponymous counter which enabled a facile detection and quantification of these studies."

    I wanted people to connect to Geiger counter which I beleive is in most people's vocabulary.

  4. The spectacles pic on the ad is TY-worthy--with of course, the Honor House Products Corp. being a trustworthy place to send a buck.