Everyone has heard something about radiation. Whether it’s those of the baby-boom generation, who stayed up late to watch black and white horror films about giant irradiated monsters, or the newer generation who hear about nuclear power plants that are proposed to be a beneficial alternative energy sources, the word is thrown around a lot. Throughout the years since the term was coined, however, the word’s true chemical meaning seems to be lost. There are negative connotations of the word that call to mind glowing green piles of goo, and there are positive ones suggest new medical developments. Because of the many distortions of the true meaning of “radiation”, it has become difficult to separate fact from fiction, scientific statistics from Hollywood theatrics, and actual dangers from popular misconceptions. So, with this in mind, it becomes easier to dispel any rumors about radiation and learn what really makes it tick. Well, your Geiger counter any way.
Fewer and fewer people can recall the Cuban missile crisis, or remember watching a “duck and cover” public safety videos in school, yet as Cold War memories fade, its effect on American pop culture still lingers. With the shock of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still ringing in the public’s ears, an electrified America began its fascination with the idea of radiation. In the 1950s, a new era for film emerged with the making of films like “Them!” and “Attack Of The 50-Ft. Woman” in which normal people and animals become radioactive and grow in size.
The idea that radiation would cause you to grow to abnormal levels, however, was completely fabricated by screenwriters during this period who were in need for plot, and fascinated with radiation. The recently released video game “Fallout 3” is a throwback to Cold War culture and imagines people affected by radiation to be glowing zombies who kill anything that moves.
Even Japan began to imagine the long-term effects of the nuclear bombs that fell on their land with films involving giant radioactive monsters like Godzilla. As pop culture became more and more influenced by radiation, stories began using it as a convenient way to begin a narrative. This can be seen in older super-hero comic books like Spider-Man, in which the main character is bitten by a radioactive spider and given super-powers.
Next, horror films began using radiation as an excuse to explain the origins of whatever monster is hunting the main character down. Movies like “Class of Nuk’em High” involve highly unbelievable effects of radiation on people and animals. Radiation’s burst of influence on pop culture in the late 20th century, though misleading about its true effects, spread awareness about the subject across the nation.
Today, most people are aware that radiation does not turn you into a flesh-eating zombie, or enable you to fly and shoot lasers out of your eyes, but they still don’t fully comprehend its actual scientific effects. Most of what we know about radiation started with Marie Curie, a Polish scientist who lived from 1867 to 1934. During her life she discovered two new radioactive elements, made great advancements in the study of radiation, and devoted much of her time to creating institutions for research about radiation. Unfortunately, Curie died of aplastic anemia, a blood disease caused by her long-term exposure to radiation. However, through this tragedy, much has been learned about the harmful effects of radiation.
A similar story can be seen in the tale of David Hahn, a Detroit teen who, in the mid-90s, attempted to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard shed. After acquiring dangerous elements from sources like broken-up batteries and smoke detectors, David ended his project with a criminal record and a radioactive shed. Though the effects of the radiation have yet to show themselves, doctors are guessing that young David may have shortened his life. The actual effects of radiation can be seen in the diagram below:
One way of measuring radiation is in a unit called millisieverts. Essentially, it measures the amount of radiation absorbed by an object. Watch this educational video in which our beloved Fox E. Flynn is pumped with millisieverts and observed for reactions to learn more about the effects of radiation.
Recently, because of the crisis in Japan, radiation has been a popular subject for discussion. People are in a rush to understand what short-term and long-term impact this incident will have on Japan. Hopefully, no one is wondering what radioactive monster this disaster will give birth to. Radiation is very dangerous, and many people have given up their lives to understand more about it. Though pop culture depicts false ideas about radiation, there is legitimate concern about the harmful effects of radiation.