I'm looking for all thing unusual, little known and also ATOMIC
November 21, 2014 10:02 AM   Subscribe

The other day I read this thing about ATOMIC GARDENING And apparently this controlled mutation is the reason we have ruby red grapefruits. So my question is what ELSE is atomic that I didn't know about? Is there anything else using radiation unconventionally or atomic technology in novel places I didn't suspect?
posted by rileyray3000 to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Operation Plowshare?
posted by Thing at 10:04 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not super secret, but Radium dials on watches?
posted by Think_Long at 10:24 AM on November 21, 2014

Prior to World War II, it was common practice for manufacturers of ceramic dinnerware to use uranium oxide in color glazes.

posted by thejoshu at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2014

Atomic powered heart pacemakers. They each contain a very small amount of Plutonium 238 and are surgically implanted in people with faulty hearts. It was an experimental program, and according to Wikipedia "as of 2004, about 90 were still in use."
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:27 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ionizing Smoke Detectors
posted by radwolf76 at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2014

Tritium Illumination, especially in gun sights.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

A bunch of crazy/weird stuff associated with Operation Plowshare as mentioned above.

Nuclear well logging technology, sticking large sources in the ground to determine properties like density and moisture of the surrounding rock for construction and oil exploration purposes.

Food irradiation to remove parasites and foreign pests

Irradiating gemstones to give them color

The shoe fitting fluoroscope I kind of want one of these.

Various radioactive quack cures from the early 1900s to today

Powering spaceships/satelites using radiothermal generators, using the plain heat from radioactive decay to generate electricity.

Scientific techniques like neutron activation analysis, zapping things with neutrons and watching how radioactive they become, which can be used in everything from criminal forensics to antropology e.g. using trace elements in a clay pot from a burial site up in the mountians to pinpoint which lowland city the pot was made from or tracing an obsidion knife to a particular lava flow and infering things about trade routes.

Use of radiotracers in all kinds of medical, environmental, and geological research. C-14.
posted by pseudonick at 11:25 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't want a shoe fitting fluoroscope. They put out massive amounts of X-Ray radiation, back when we didn't know how harmful it was. Like orders-of-magnitude-above-safe levels.

My dad was a shoe salesman in those days and, thankfully, avoided playing with the scope like his coworkers did. A lot of them lost toes and feet in the years afterward.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:31 PM on November 21, 2014

irradiated food? Totally safe actually...by the time it reaches the store shelves all the radiation is gone. pretty much everything you see in that 'juice box' style packaging has been irradiated. milk, soup, etc.

turning lead into gold is totally possible these days as well (go alchemy! woot!)...just bombard it with enough fast moving neutrons. of course, the final product is totally radioactive and costs like ten times what just mining the gold from the ground would cost, but still, technically possible.

that tritium illumination is pretty cool... OMG! I Must. Own. This. O.O

here's more mutant plants for you.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:52 PM on November 21, 2014

Irradiated food: They're using gamma rays, which are not infectious. At the power levels they're using, no living thing can survive, so it kills off all bacteria and destroys all viruses and fungi spores.

But there is no residual radioactivity. Impossible.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:56 PM on November 21, 2014

They've done radiation-induced mutation research with Drosophila (aka fruit flies). They're a good choice for it, because they have a short generation time and no one cares if you mistreat them. (heh)

One of the more interesting results was flies with four body sections instead of three. The middle section, with the wings, is duplicated. (And no, they can't fly.) Genetic analysis has shown that this is the result of a single mutation in what clearly must be a regulator gene. Studies like this have made a huge contribution to figuring out how a single cell (a fertilized egg) can duplicate and differentiate and eventually become an adult (of whatever species).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:02 PM on November 21, 2014

gamma radiation is still radiation (alpha, beta, gamma) and IIRC, the gamma rays do disrupt some of the atoms in the food enough that there is addional radioactivity, but with a half-life of hours or days, totally safe.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:19 PM on November 21, 2014

IIRC, the gamma rays do disrupt some of the atoms in the food enough that there is addional radioactivity, but with a half-life of hours or days, totally safe.

That is not true, but it is possible for gammas to make things radioactive. Though only if you have gamma energies over ~10 MeV where you can get (n,gamma) reactions and the photons knock neutrons out of an atom they strike. Food irradiators do not use energies like that. Nor do your dental x-rays, so zero radioactive elements are created and the food does not become radioactive.

Another interesting application, neutron radiography. Taking pictures with neutrons instead of the more traditional photons. Neutrons wiz right through metal, but are blocked by light elements like hydrogen. So a neutron camera can look inside a metal WD40 can to see the level of the (hydrogen heavy) oil, where photons couldn't do that. They use neutron cameras to look for flaws in really important bits of metal like steel or titanium turbine blades that you really don't want breaking.
posted by pseudonick at 8:54 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you ever end up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, you should check out the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History - as I recall, they have a whole exhibit showing a lot of the things mentioned here. I think it's probably Radiation 101, although they unfortunately don't seem to have much to see online. Worth a visit in person if you get the chance, though!
posted by sigmagalator at 7:42 PM on November 28, 2014

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