Quantum and Nuclear

Radioactive toys

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19 IOP RESOURCES

The physicist George Zweig, who went on to develop a model of quarks, recalled how his interest in nuclear physics was sparked by a free toy in a box of breakfast cereal. In the 1940s, after hearing about an ‘atomic bomb ring’ on the Lone Ranger radio show, he sent off 15 cents and a cereal box top to receive the toy. When the ring arrived, Zweig recalled taking the toy into a dark wardrobe, removing the cap and observing brilliant flashes of light. The ring was a spinthariscope, an instrument for observing nuclear disintergration (invented by William Crookes, the inventor of the eponymous tube used to discover X-rays) powered by a small piece of polonium.

Radioactive toys

In the early 1950s, Gilbert Toys, an American manufacturer of specialised science toys and chemistry sets, brought out Gilbert’s U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. Costing $49.50 (approximately $500 in today’s money), the set contained a Geiger-Müller counter, a cloud chamber, an electroscope and alpha, beta and gamma radiation sources. Radar Magazine dubbed the Atomic Energy Lab one of “the 10 most dangerous toys of all time” in 2006.

 

References

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today