radioactiveglassbeforeA few weeks ago, mom and I stumbled upon an estate sale.  Most of the stuff was overpriced, so we walked away almost empty-handed, but there were a few items that we had been eying (and of course waiting for the “half price” day to follow).  Our first treasure was a “Texas Rose Quilt” that was handmade and many years old – obviously it had taken a very long time to complete, and neither mom nor I had seen anything like it.  After buying that “must have” (along with a few other small items) and left the scene.  Later that evening, mom wondered if the glassware she had seen was actually Uranium glass.  I had never heard the term, so she explained (being the good science teacher she is).  Uranium glass contains uranium, usually in oxide radioactive glassdiuranate form (disclaimer:  I have no clue what that means exactly), added to a glass mix before melting.   The pieces vary from trace levels to about 2% uranium, although some 20th-century pieces were made with up to 25%.  The amount of uranium in the piece determines the color of its “glow” (it’s more yellow if there’s a greater amount of uranium).  It’s found in early century tableware and household items, but fell out of widespread use during the Cold War (1940s) when the availability of uranium decreased.  These pieces kind of rare to find now (and can be expensive if the seller is knowledgeable).

The next morning, mom still couldn’t stop thinking about that glass, so we went back to the estate sale, armed with a black light in her purse (of course, she’s the only person I know who has a mini black light handy).  She casually plucked a piece from the glassware area, sequestered it to a bathroom, and plugged-in her black light.  It was sneaky, and exciting.  We were rebels, living on the edge!  (Kidding.  Actually, it felt exciting, in a nerdy way of course.)

The glass glowed a neon green, bright and very spooky.   I’m not nearly as amused with science-y discoveries as my mom is, but I’ll admit this was cool.  In fact, it was impressive – that my mom recognized it and went to such lengths to prove her theory to be right.  I’m glad I was there – it was a fun experience (and she got to add some cool pieces to her collection)!  By the way, Mom, I plan to borrow these for Halloween… can’t you just see a spooky tablescape lit up with black lights?