The rapid transformation of human blood platelets from inert discoid cells to spheroechinocytes that is induced by adenosine diphosphate (ADP) has been followed by right-angle light scattering intensity measurements using a laser light source and a sensitive photomultiplier. Two steps have been observed, and their rate constants have been determined as a function of pH and [ADP] and in the presence and absence of calcium for both platelet-rich plasma and gel-filtered platelets. Both steps are significantly faster in the presence of physiologic levels of calcium. Platelets were fixed prior to and during activation, then examined by phase-contrast and scanning electron microscopy. The light scattering and morphological changes support a model in which, under physiologic conditions of pH, temperature, ionic strength, and calcium concentration, the initial rapid event in platelet shape change is the loss of discoid shape, with a decay time of two to three seconds, leading to an intermediate with short pseudopods. The slower extension of long pseudopods occurs next, with a time constant of approximately seven to eight seconds. These results may help to resolve the contradictory descriptions of the mechanism of platelet shape change that have recently appeared in the literature.