Letter | Published:

The Infection of Laboratories by Radium

Nature volume 71, pages 460461 (16 March 1905) | Download Citation



IN a recent attempt in the physics building of McGill University to make electroscopes with a very small natural leak, repeated failures were encountered. The rate of discharge of several instruments, carefully made, was found to be about sixty to one hundred times as large as that obtained by Mr. H. L. Cooke two years earlier in the same building. At first it was supposed that the insulation of the sulphur bead was defective. But the natural leak was large and unaffected when the upper support of the sulphur bead was raised to a higher potential than the gold leaf system, so that the insulation was not at fault. Nor was the rate of discharge altered when the electroscope was entirely surrounded by lead one inch thick. Removal to another building produced no effect on the leak of the electroscope. It appeared probable that the trouble was due to the radio-activity of the materials from which the electroscope was made. A rude instrument, made in a private house with a tobacco tin, the amber mouthpiece of a pipe, and a cork, was found to give better results than the most carefully constructed instrument in the physics building. Some electroscopes were next made in the chemistry building, using materials which had never been into the physics building. Instruments with a very slow rate of discharge were now easily manufactured. These were used to test materials from various parts of the physics building, and it was found that all were infected with excited activity. Sheets of mica, lead foil, iron, zinc and tin were all active, even when taken from drawers or cupboards.

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  1. McGill University, Montreal, February 25.

    • A. S. EVE


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