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OMG! If I’d found this gem glowing underneath the aluminum Christmas tree when I was a kid, I’d have sprained something in my geekly excitement. I think I’d sprain something now… my wallet. This kit sold for a rather steep-at-the-time $50 and goes for 100 times that now. But I’d still be tempted. I think that’s just about the most inspired atomic age objet d’art I’ve ever seen. Joseph Cornell, David Lynch, the Fluxus artists, William Gibson, and the Coraline box makers, all working together, couldn’t do anything more aesthetically/culturally/temporally resonant than that.

The set came with four types of uranium ore, a beta-alpha source (Pb-210), a pure beta source (Ru-106), a gamma source (Zn-65?), a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber with its own short-lived alpha source (Po-210), an electroscope, a geiger counter, a manual, a comic book (Dagwood Splits the Atom) and a government manual “Prospecting for Uranium.”

Other Gilbert sets (e.g., the No. 11 Atomic Energy set) continued to carry the spinthariscope, the ore and the manual. In addition, the Geiger counter could be purchased separately.

Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab (1950-1951) [via Boing Boing]

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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