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Title: Spinthariscope  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Laboratory, Scintillation counter, 1903 introductions, Scintillator, Activator (phosphor)
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A quality toy spinthariscope taken from a 1950s Chemcraft brand "Atomic energy" chemistry experimentation set

A spinthariscope is a device for observing individual nuclear disintegrations caused by the interaction of ionizing radiation with a phosphor (see radioluminescence) or scintillator.


  • Invention 1
  • Toy spinthariscopes 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


The spinthariscope was invented by William Crookes in 1903.[1][2] While observing the apparently uniform fluorescence on a zinc sulfide screen created by the radioactive emissions (mostly alpha radiation) of a sample of radium bromide, he spilled some of the sample, and, owing to its extreme rarity and cost, he was eager to find and recover it.[3] Upon inspecting the zinc sulfide screen under a microscope, he noticed separate flashes of light created by individual alpha particle collisions with the screen. Crookes took his discovery a step further and invented a device specifically intended to view these scintillations. It consisted of a small screen coated with zinc sulfide affixed to the end of a tube, with a tiny amount of radium salt suspended a short distance from the screen and a lens on the other end of the tube for viewing the screen. Crookes named his device from Greek σπινθήρ (spinth´ēr) "spark".

Toy spinthariscopes

Spinthariscopes were quickly replaced with more accurate and quantitative devices for measuring radiation in scientific experiments, but enjoyed a modest revival in the mid 20th century as children's educational toys.[4] They can still be bought today as instructional novelties, but they now use americium or thorium.


  1. ^ Crookes, W. Certain Properties of the Emanations of Radium. Chemical News; Vol. 87:241; 1903.
  2. ^ Frame, Paul W. "The Crookes Spinthariscope". Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Alfred Romer (1960). The Restless Atom: The Awakening of Nuclear Physics. Anchor Books. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Bonnier Corporation (June 2007). Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation. pp. 86–.  

External links

  • Modern spinthariscope
  • Elements of electricity: a practical discussion of the fundamental laws and ... by Robert Andrews Millikan, Edwin Sherwood Bishop, American Technical Society
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