12 Nov 2010 3:24
Science overload — always a welcome thing — happened at The Greene Space last night. On the menu? Radiolab Live: Symmetry, with guest artist John Cameron Mitchell singing Origin of Love from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
I pulled out my notebook twice during the show: first, to jot down a hairy pun, and second, to sketch a schematic of the cloud chamber I owned as a kid. I’ve retired the pun and won’t divulge it here; it served its intended purpose. (Andy responded, “Ow. Even I’m offended.”) But I have a bit more to say about the cloud chamber.
In my hasty schematic, I labeled the head of the pin AMERICIUM, but subsequent research suggests that it was radium, not americium, on the head of the pin. Fortunately, I never suffered from pica. The kit also contained a chunk of uranium ore.
I didn’t play with the cloud chamber quite as much as I did with some of my other dangerous toys like the Creepy Crawlers Thingmaker (my favorite childhood toy of all, no contest), the Wham-O Air Blaster (which became increasingly dangerous each time my brother thought of something new, like pencils, to fire from it), the Vac-U-Form, the chemistry set — mercury (I especially enjoyed freezing bits of it with dry ice), carbon tetrachloride, ammonium dichromate, and potassium permanganate were among my favorite chemicals — the Slip-’n-Slide, the lawn darts, or the Clackers.
Nor was the Atomic Energy Lab the radium-containing possession I carried with me most often as a child. That distinction goes to the radium-dial watch Dad gave me in junior high school. The watch was stolen from my gym locker one morning in 1970, unfortunately — but perhaps unfortunately for the thief more than for me.
The only radium I know I own any more is in the painted dial of the Jefferson Electric Golden Hour clock in my bedroom. The radium is no doubt decaying apace and will continue to do so for centuries to come. But alas, the zinc sulfide phospor has broken down, and the dial no longer glows.
¹ The verb dweave (past tense dwove) and the noun dwive will be coined in a future installment of “Word of the Day.”