web analytics


That little boy looks hella jacked — and you would be too, if dad bought you a science kit with four (4!) different kinds of uranium ore, three (3!) separate radiation sources and a geiger counter, so you could chart the progress of your radioactive ass.

It’s American (of course it is), it was only available in 1951-2 and it cost $50, which was a lot of moolah. The one thing I can’t find — and I’ve looked up every article I could on this thing — is whether it was actually dangerous. I assume, not very.

It goes on display at the Ulster Museum next month, in an exhibition called Elements.

When I was a little girl, we had a chip of…radium, I guess. Something radioactive and glowy. One of the curiosities my grandfather collected. It was in a thick glass cylinder and I would often take it into the closet, close the door and hold it up to my eye for long, loving looks.

Which is why my right eye can see into Valhalla.


Comment from Uncle Al
Time: February 16, 2015, 11:27 pm

My, how far we have descended into nanny state fraidy-catism.

I’m 65 years old. I’m healthy and un-maimed even though my childhood occurred during a period of what today would be considered INSANE RECKLESSNESS and UNCONSCIONABLE CHILD ENDANGERMENT.

In about 1957, at age 8, my mother didn’t give a second thought to it when I’d announce I was going to ride around the perimeter of the town we lived in (Coronado CA) on my bike. I’d be gone for hours. Any parent doing that today would be in the slammer and have her kids taken away. Forever.

In about 1960, my father ordered a 5-lb AlNiCo magnet from Edmund Scientific for me. It could lift somewhere over 100 lbs and if you got a body part between its poles and the keeper bar or other hunk of iron, it was goodbye body part. I still have that magnet, and nobody ever got hurt by it.

I don’t know if any of this is related to the love I had later on in life for spelunking, rock climbing, hang gliding, motorcycle riding, and body surfing, but I lived through it all just fine, thankyouverymuch, and it is entirely possible that the respect for risks I developed when I was younger made those activities highly life-enriching and non-injurious.

That Nuke Kit would have made my father and me very happy. I’m sorry it was out of the picture when I was only three years old. Just a few years later, and…!

Edit: (full disclosure) I did dislocate my right elbow in a bad landing with a borrowed hang glider. Big freakin’ deal.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: February 16, 2015, 11:46 pm

I used to insist on waggling my back paw claws under the sinister green glow of the x-ray machines that once graced every shoe shop.

Does that count?

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: February 16, 2015, 11:57 pm

@Uncle B – Yes, it does count. Good for you!

And we’ll now have a moment of silence for all the shoe salesmen who died early deaths from radiation-induced cancer.

Comment from Armybrat
Time: February 17, 2015, 12:25 am

Millions of Americans in the late 50s-60s ate their dinners on red fiestaware plates whose glaze was made from depleted uranium.

Comment from The Neon Madman
Time: February 17, 2015, 1:02 am

Don Surber just had a good posting on Gilbert, his Erector sets and chemistry/atomic kits. Worth a read.


Comment from mojo
Time: February 17, 2015, 3:56 am

So it’s got a little uranium ore in it, and maybe a cesium alpha-emitter. BFD. It’s not plutonium, and it’s waaaaay less than a critical mass, probably not even enough to badly contaminate a bedroom, try as you might…

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: February 17, 2015, 4:07 am

And then, of course, there’s the ‘Radioactive Boy Scout’ who did a brilliant job of building a breeder reactor….in his garden shed. Oh, and yes, he did get his start from “The Golden Book Of Chemistry Experiments”


Comment from JeffS
Time: February 17, 2015, 2:40 pm

Our high school science lab had a large chunk of uranium ore and a Civil Defense radiation meter. I borrowed both one day, hoping to get convince a girl that she was radioactive and needed decontamination in the school showers.

No, it didn’t work, dang it!

Later on, I actually became a certified fall out shelter manager, and found out that I could do the same thing with gas lamp mantles. Hilarity ensued.

Comment from Bikeboy
Time: February 17, 2015, 3:57 pm

The first merit badge I earned as a boy scout was the brand-new Atomic Energy merit badge (woulda been around 1965). A group of 200+ scouts all earned it together; experts in the field were brought in to teach us things, and we built our models of atoms using styrofoam balls and toothpicks. The grand finale was a tour – in school buses – over a weekend to the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) site in southeast Idaho. Fantastic! Far as I know, I’ve been exposed to more radition with each dental X-ray, than I got during the course of that badge.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: February 17, 2015, 5:51 pm

Man, even refined U-238 isn’t all that dangerous, as long as you don’t powder it & stick it up your heiney.

Comment from Poindexter
Time: February 17, 2015, 6:06 pm

I would have killed for that kit as a kid. Heck, I still would. Still, I had a real chemistry kit and used to save up allowance and spare change to visit the local hobby store, where I could buy new glassware, chemicals, and other supplies. I desperately wanted to blow things up, but never did any better than blowing out the bottom portion of a test tube (the random mix of chemicals I put in had hardened into a plug at its top but was being kept molten and boiling by the burner flame on the bottom). Great fun!

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: February 17, 2015, 9:43 pm

I used to have a spent fuel pellet which I carried around in my watch pocket. I also had a bit of radium.
Good times.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: February 17, 2015, 10:02 pm

Radium-226 is predominantly an alpha emitter, as is uranium which is 99.3% U-238. A few mm of air or a sheet of paper stops alphas. If you ingest an alpha emitter then you can be in big trouble. Po-210, for example, is very radioactive and a pure sample will glow blue from excited air molecules in its immediate vicinity, but it’s not hazardous until you swallow it, and then you’re dead. That’s what they killed Litvinenko with. We had a Cs-137 source at school and it was available for experiments. I used it for my A-level physics project. That’s a beta emitter so a bit more dangerous, but not in the μCi activities of lab sources. It might not be the best idea to carry it round in your pocket, but even then your hair isn’t going to fall out. It takes a lot of radiation to even show statistically raised incidences of cancer (like 100 millisieverts, which is 25× the average yearly dose). Luddites, ignoramuses and Green fascists are a potent combination in stoking radiation freak-outs. Radon is a legitimate concern, because although it’s gaseous, its daughter products are not, so they tend to stick to dust particles and get inhaled. Even so, if your basement is well-ventilated you have nothing to worry about.

Comment from Davem123
Time: February 18, 2015, 2:32 pm

I can’t believe this post is into it’s third day without a single comment from “the region centered on the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean.”

Perhaps the fallout from Fukushima proved too much.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: February 18, 2015, 4:23 pm

Perhaps the fallout from Fukushima proved too much.

That picture up above makes the post far too radioactive to open in a browser window! Don’t you know even a little bit of Science™?

Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: February 18, 2015, 4:46 pm

Watch companies used to put a tiny bit of radium on their watch dials so the hands and markers would glow in the dark. Now the so-called “luminous” dials give up the ghost in the middle of the night.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: February 18, 2015, 6:39 pm

The good ones use tritium but it only has a 12 year half life so after 25 years you can barely see them.

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny