Last updated
Unit system SI
Unit of activity
Named after Henri Becquerel
1 Bq in ...... is equal to ...
    rutherford    10−6 Rd
    curie    2.703×10−11 Ci27 pCi
    SI base unit     s −1

The becquerel (English: /bɛkəˈrɛl/ ; symbol: Bq) is the unit of radioactivity in the International System of Units (SI). One becquerel is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. For applications relating to human health this is a small quantity, [1] and SI multiples of the unit are commonly used. [2]


The becquerel is named after Henri Becquerel, who shared a Nobel Prize in Physics with Pierre and Marie Skłodowska Curie in 1903 for their work in discovering radioactivity. [3]


1 Bq = 1 s−1

A special name was introduced for the reciprocal second (s−1) to represent radioactivity to avoid potentially dangerous mistakes with prefixes. For example, 1 µs−1 would mean 106 disintegrations per second: 1·(10−6 s)−1 = 106 s−1, [4] whereas 1 µBq would mean 1 disintegration per 1 million seconds. Other names considered were hertz (Hz), a special name already in use for the reciprocal second, and Fourier (Fr). [4] The hertz is now only used for periodic phenomena. [5] Whereas 1 Hz is 1 cycle per second, 1 Bq is 1 aperiodic radioactivity event per second.

The gray (Gy) and the becquerel (Bq) were introduced in 1975. [6] Between 1953 and 1975, absorbed dose was often measured in rads. Decay activity was measured in curies before 1946 and often in rutherfords between 1946 [7] and 1975.

Unit capitalization and prefixes

As with every International System of Units (SI) unit named for a person, the first letter of its symbol is uppercase (Bq). However, when an SI unit is spelled out in English, it should always begin with a lowercase letter (becquerel)—except in a situation where any word in that position would be capitalized, such as at the beginning of a sentence or in material using title case. [8]

Like any SI unit, Bq can be prefixed; commonly used multiples are kBq (kilobecquerel, 103 Bq), MBq (megabecquerel, 106 Bq, equivalent to 1 rutherford), GBq (gigabecquerel, 109 Bq), TBq (terabecquerel, 1012 Bq), and PBq (petabecquerel, 1015 Bq). Large prefixes are common for practical uses of the unit.

Calculation of radioactivity

For a given mass (in grams) of an isotope with atomic mass (in g/mol) and a half-life of (in s), the radioactivity can be calculated using:

With = 6.02214076×1023 mol−1, the Avogadro constant.

Since is the number of moles (), the amount of radioactivity can be calculated by:

For instance, on average each gram of potassium contains 117 micrograms of 40K (all other naturally occurring isotopes are stable) that has a of 1.277×109 years = 4.030×1016 s, [9] and has an atomic mass of 39.964 g/mol, [10] so the amount of radioactivity associated with a gram of potassium is 30 Bq.


For practical applications, 1 Bq is a small unit. For example, there is roughly 0.0169 g of potassium-40 present in a typical human body, decaying at a rate of approximately 4,430 decays per second. [11]

The global inventory of carbon-14 is estimated to be 8.5×1018 Bq (8.5  EBq, 8.5 exabecquerel). [12] The nuclear explosion in Hiroshima (an explosion of 16  kt or 67 TJ) is estimated to have injected 8×1024 Bq (8  YBq, 8 yottabecquerel) of radioactive fission products into the atmosphere. [13]

These examples are useful for comparing the amount of activity of these radioactive materials but should not be confused with the amount of exposure to ionizing radiation that these materials represent. The level of exposure and thus the absorbed dose received are what should be considered when assessing the effects of ionizing radiation on humans.

Relation to the curie

The becquerel succeeded the curie (Ci), [14] an older, non-SI unit of radioactivity based on the activity of 1 gram of radium-226. The curie is defined as 3.7×1010 s−1, or 37 GBq. [4] [15]

Conversion factors:

1 Ci = 3.7×1010 Bq = 37 GBq
1 μCi = 37,000 Bq = 37 kBq
1 Bq = 2.7×10−11 Ci = 2.7×10−5 μCi
1 MBq = 0.027 mCi
Graphic showing relationships between radioactivity and detected ionizing radiation Radioactivity and radiation.png
Graphic showing relationships between radioactivity and detected ionizing radiation

The following table shows radiation quantities in SI and non-SI units. WR (formerly 'Q' factor) is a factor that scales the biological effect for different types of radiation, relative to x-rays. (e.g. 1 for beta radiation, 20 for alpha radiation, and a complicated function of energy for neutrons) In general conversion between rates of emission, the density of radiation, the fraction absorbed, and the biological effects, requires knowledge of the geometry between source and target, the energy and the type of the radiation emitted, among other factors. [16]

Ionizing radiation related quantities view    talk    edit
QuantityUnitSymbolDerivationYear SI equivalence
Activity (A) becquerel Bqs−11974SI unit
curie Ci3.7 × 1010 s−119533.7×1010 Bq
rutherford Rd106 s−119461,000,000 Bq
Exposure (X) coulomb per kilogram C/kgC⋅kg−1 of air1974SI unit
röntgen R esu / 0.001293 g of air19282.58 × 10−4 C/kg
Absorbed dose (D) gray Gy J⋅kg−11974SI unit
erg per gramerg/gerg⋅g−119501.0 × 10−4 Gy
rad rad100 erg⋅g−119530.010 Gy
Equivalent dose (H) sievert SvJ⋅kg−1 × WR 1977SI unit
röntgen equivalent man rem100 erg⋅g−1 x WR 19710.010 Sv
Effective dose (E) sievert SvJ⋅kg−1 × WR × WT 1977SI unit
röntgen equivalent man rem100 erg⋅g−1 × WR × WT 19710.010 Sv

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hertz</span> SI unit for frequency

The hertz is the unit of frequency in the International System of Units (SI), equivalent to one event per second. The hertz is an SI derived unit whose expression in terms of SI base units is s−1, meaning that one hertz is the reciprocal of one second. It is named after Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857–1894), the first person to provide conclusive proof of the existence of electromagnetic waves. Hertz are commonly expressed in multiples: kilohertz (kHz), megahertz (MHz), gigahertz (GHz), terahertz (THz).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polonium</span> Chemical element, symbol Po and atomic number 84

Polonium is a chemical element with the symbol Po and atomic number 84. Polonium is a chalcogen. A rare and highly radioactive metal with no stable isotopes, polonium is chemically similar to selenium and tellurium, though its metallic character resembles that of its horizontal neighbors in the periodic table: thallium, lead, and bismuth. Due to the short half-life of all its isotopes, its natural occurrence is limited to tiny traces of the fleeting polonium-210 in uranium ores, as it is the penultimate daughter of natural uranium-238. Though slightly longer-lived isotopes exist, they are much more difficult to produce. Today, polonium is usually produced in milligram quantities by the neutron irradiation of bismuth. Due to its intense radioactivity, which results in the radiolysis of chemical bonds and radioactive self-heating, its chemistry has mostly been investigated on the trace scale only.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Radon</span> Chemical element, symbol Rn and atomic number 86

Radon is a chemical element with the symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a radioactive, colourless, odourless, tasteless noble gas. It occurs naturally in minute quantities as an intermediate step in the normal radioactive decay chains through which thorium and uranium slowly decay into various short-lived radioactive elements and lead. Radon itself is the immediate decay product of radium. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of only 3.8 days, making it one of the rarest elements. Since thorium and uranium are two of the most common radioactive elements on Earth, while also having three isotopes with half-lives on the order of several billion years, radon will be present on Earth long into the future despite its short half-life. The decay of radon produces many other short-lived nuclides, known as "radon daughters", ending at stable isotopes of lead.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tritium</span> Isotope of hydrogen with two neutrons

Tritium or hydrogen-3 is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen with half-life about 12 years. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of the common isotope hydrogen-1 (protium) contains one proton and zero neutrons, and that of hydrogen-2 (deuterium) contains one proton and one neutron.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beta particle</span> Ionizing radiation

A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation, is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β decay and β+ decay, which produce electrons and positrons respectively.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henri Becquerel</span> French physicist and engineer (1852–1908)

Antoine Henri Becquerel was a French engineer, physicist, Nobel laureate, and the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. For work in this field he, along with Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie, received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. The SI unit for radioactivity, the becquerel (Bq), is named after him.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Decay energy</span>

The decay energy is the energy change of a nucleus having undergone a radioactive decay. Radioactive decay is the process in which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting ionizing particles and radiation. This decay, or loss of energy, results in an atom of one type transforming to an atom of a different type.

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The curie is a non-SI unit of radioactivity originally defined in 1910. According to a notice in Nature at the time, it was to be named in honour of Pierre Curie, but was considered at least by some to be in honour of Marie Curie as well, and is in later literature considered to be named for both.

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Specific activity is the activity per unit mass of a radionuclide and is a physical property of that radionuclide.

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The rad is a unit of absorbed radiation dose, defined as 1 rad = 0.01 Gy = 0.01 J/kg. It was originally defined in CGS units in 1953 as the dose causing 100 ergs of energy to be absorbed by one gram of matter. The material absorbing the radiation can be human tissue or silicon microchips or any other medium.

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This article compares the radioactivity release and decay from the Chernobyl disaster with various other events which involved a release of uncontrolled radioactivity.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Americium-241</span> Radioactive isotope of Americium

Americium-241 is an isotope of americium. Like all isotopes of americium, it is radioactive, with a half-life of 432.2 years. 241
is the most common isotope of americium as well as the most prevalent isotope of americium in nuclear waste. It is commonly found in ionization type smoke detectors and is a potential fuel for long-lifetime radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). Its common parent nuclides are β from 241
, EC from 241
, and α from 245
. 241
is fissile and the critical mass of a bare sphere is 57.6–75.6 kilograms (127.0–166.7 lb) and a sphere diameter of 19–21 centimetres (7.5–8.3 in). Americium-241 has a specific activity of 3.43 Ci/g (126.91 GBq/g). It is commonly found in the form of americium-241 dioxide. This isotope also has one meta state, 241m
, with an excitation energy of 2.2 MeV (0.35 pJ) and a half-life of 1.23 μs. The presence of americium-241 in plutonium is determined by the original concentration of plutonium-241 and the sample age. Because of the low penetration of alpha radiation, americium-241 only poses a health risk when ingested or inhaled. Older samples of plutonium containing 241
contain a buildup of 241
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