Quantum and Nuclear

Uranium glass

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

Following his discovery of uranium in 1789, Martin Klaproth suggested that uranium calx (uranium oxide) could be used as a dye for colouring glass and porcelain. The pigment became known as uranium yellow. After uranium ore is mined, it is crushed and chemically treated to produce a yellow powder of uranium oxide (U3O8) known as yellow cake. Uranium oxide was used as a pigment in glassware to produce a range of yellow and green colours which fluoresce under ultraviolet light and were popular in the 1880s-1920s  −  and it is reported that Queen Victoria was gifted a pair of uranium glass candlesticks. The perceived similarity of the colour of the glassware to petroleum jelly led to its nickname ‘Vaseline glass’. Manufacture of uranium glass products has continued to this day, though depleted uranium from spent nuclear fuel is typically used an alternative to mined yellow cake to preserve uranium reserves. The dose of radiation from uranium glass is typically too low to be harmful to humans.


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