Monday, February 9, 2009

Atomic Energy Lab

In 1951, A.C. Gilbert introduced his U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, a radioactive learning set for children. After one year it was pulled from the market because somebody realized that the radioactive element included in the set may cause problems for stupid children putting it in their mouths or up their noses. It looks impressive and is a masterpiece of 50s toy design that of course was totally dangerous in the way lawn darts were (ah sweet, sweet heavy metal darts of death). When I was a kid we had no bike helmets or water wings - it was dog eat dog out there. Even pop came in one litre glass bottles that would explode when shaken up enough and spread glass across the kitchen like grenade shrapnel. None of the little snowflakes out there today would last three days in the 'road warrior' wasteland I grew up in. Hell we fought each other with garbage can lids and huge icicle swords all the while being told by our parents to stay outside until our boots got wet or we lost our mittens. OMG...I have become that guy who chases the kids off his lawn with a garden hose.

"For a mere $49.50, the kit came complete with three "very low-level" radioactive sources, a Geiger-Mueller radiation counter, a Wilson cloud chamber (to see paths of alpha particles), a spinthariscope (to see "live" radioactive disintegration), four samples of uranium-bearing ores, and an electroscope to measure radioactivity. It's unclear what effects the uranium-bearing ores might have had on those few lucky children who received the set, but exposure to the same isotope—U-238—has been linked to Gulf War syndrome, cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma, among other serious ailments. Even more uncertain is the long-term impact of being raised by the kind of nerds who would give their kid an Atomic Energy Lab."

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