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.



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