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Using a Toy Train To Calibrate a Reactor

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the little-engine-that-could-measure-minute-amounts dept.

Toys 120

alfredos writes "Physicists and engineers at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory built tracks inside a fusion reactor and ran a toy train for three days to help them with their calibrations. From the article: 'The modified model of a diesel train engine was carrying a small chunk of californium-252, a radioactive element that spews neutrons as it falls apart. “We needed to refine the calibration technique to make sure we are measuring our neutrons as accurately as possible,” said Masa Ono, the project head of the National Spherical Torus Experiment.'"

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So what is this... (5, Funny)

srothroc (733160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689124)

Nuclear reactor training?

Re:So what is this... (4, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689168)

One of these days I'm going to have to set up my laptop right beside the drumset and read slashdot.

Gotta practice those rimshots.

(who knows, maybe one day I'll be a great sidekick on a late night talk show!)

Re:So what is this... (1)

RobVB (1566105) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689244)

You'll also need a microphone and drums-to-speech software (or a website that hosts recordings of your drumrolls).

For being a talk show sidekick though, you'll only need the microphone (the kind that's always on).

Re:So what is this... (2, Insightful)

craash420 (884493) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689256)

Too much effort, just bookmark http://www.sadtrombone.com/ [sadtrombone.com]

Re:So what is this... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30689590)

Or even http://instantrimshot.com/ [instantrimshot.com]

Re:So what is this... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30690452)

Or http://www.instantrimshot.com/ [instantrimshot.com]

Re:So what is this... (1)

Trerro (711448) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690486)

http://www.instantrimshot.com/ [instantrimshot.com] covers this just fine. :P

Re:So what is this... (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689410)

Yeah. Then you can start researching 'reactor coolant' and 'reactor control systems' so that someday, in a few weeks, you'll be qualified to build your own nuclear reactor. Then you just need a ship for it to go in, but don't worry, after all that, it'll be destroyed by someone waiting outside of a jump gate.

Re:So what is this... (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689514)

Ha, that reminds me that I need to take them up on their 5 free days offer just so I can switch my character to the next skill that will take a month to train to L5. EVE is almost as bad as Mafia Wars, I swear :P

Re:So what is this... (1)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689620)

Ha, that reminds me that I need to take them up on their 5 free days offer just so I can switch my character to the next skill that will take a month to train to L5.

Unless they changed it back, CCP changed character training a while ago so that it stopped when the account expired.

Re:So what is this... (1)

squiggly12 (1298191) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690596)

Dammit. I guess I better get my account reactivated tomorrow sometime.

Re:So what is this... (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690752)

Doh! Grr, just as well. It's not like I haven't been this disappointed since... well, since Vendetta Online adopted the same licensing system from EVE :P

It used to be really neat to be able to jump into the game as a new character and run a few obscure and risky trade runs to upgrade to the biggest ship within a few hours. Lousy games that substitute stat grinding for skillz :P

Re:So what is this... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689618)

Nuclear reactor training?

Haha, that joke will have them all laughing at the Pwinceton Pwecious Wittle Pwasma Physics Wabowatowy, right before their milk and nappy time.

Re:So what is this... (1)

Eberlin (570874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690108)

More One liners...

* They need to make sure that the project is on track
* Wait, this isn't the land of make believe!
* And there they are, just chugging along...
* Is this a hold up? No, it's a science experiment!
* On that note, shouldn't it be pushing a DeLorean around?
* I'm surprised I hadn't heard anyone rail against this.
* all their findings have to start with "If the californium-252 train leaves the station at 5 o'clock..."

Re:So what is this... (1)

ppanon (16583) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690580)

Pardon me boy, is that the californium choo-choo?

Re:So what is this... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#30691270)

* Wait, this isn't the land of make believe!

Oh wow... I sustain 3d6 Nostalgia damage. I loved that place.

For the uninformed, The Land of Make Believe [wikipedia.org] is a local New Jersey amusement park. Very small, family oriented, and lots of historical rides - the most famous of which is a rather impressive train.

Aha! (4, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689138)

You can use this just about anywhere. Now I have an excuse to bring the train into the office!

Boss: What's this?

Me: I'm calibrating the security cameras motion detection system. We need to know at what speeds the motion detection fails, lest the server room be broken into by someone with alot of patience.

Re:Aha! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30690978)

HA! I did that once; walked down a whole corridor without triggering the motion detectors that switch on the lights.

Re:Aha! (2, Interesting)

type40 (310531) | more than 4 years ago | (#30692684)

That how I use to sneak into the house back in high-school. I'd coast my car into the driveway and slow walk across the lawn. A five count per step was slow enough to keep the motion light (that was aimed at my light sleeping parents bedroom) from going off.

Done something similar (3, Interesting)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689154)

I did this plenty of times in the Navy, except that they have a tube installed that circled the reactor between it and the detectors.

The tube contained the source and you moved it from detector to detector by pulling on a cable that was attached to both ends.

Re:Done something similar (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30690386)

Yes, during the precritical checkoff. I've done WAY to many of those. It was also required as part of the testing after replacing the source range detectors which I did as well.
Our source used to get stuck and it took a repeated action of a small push and then a hard pull to get it past some areas. The yellow water on the cable was not a good sign either :(

Re:Done something similar (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690622)

The yellow water on the cable was not a good sign either :(

So that's why they always insisted of getting ELTs involved... I always thought that those type of leaks were just a myth.

Re:Done something similar (1)

NotOverHere (1526201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690594)

Yeah, except you did for periodic maintenance to calibrate a piece of equipment older than yourself, not set up cutting edge equipment. That, and I don't think the equipment was sensitive to measure the difference of a few feet AND still work over twelve or thirteen decades. But that;s why they get the big grant bucks.

Re:Done something similar (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690630)

That's all true, but on the other hand I bet they don't trust their reactor enough to build berthing areas 50' away from it either.

Re:Done something similar (1)

waferbuster (580266) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690864)

The second hardest part of doing the source pull was trying to read the silly little numbered beads on the cable.

The hardest part was unbolting and rebolting the freakin' coverplate over the sourcebox. Stupid stupid design. And of course the silly gasket material that was just glued to the back of the coverplate... and never stayed glued. I always wished I could meet the guy who designed that torture box, and make him do a few pulls.

Here's to never having to do another precritical checkoff!

Re:Done something similar (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690968)

I was about to mention the very same thing before I scrolled down and saw your reply. (Though I was an FTB, not a nuke.)

Re:Done something similar (1)

New_Guy_Here (1671964) | more than 4 years ago | (#30693462)

gah. you navy nukes just never give it up, do you? lol. class 9001. em. uss miami ssn 755. fair winds, guys.

Re:Done something similar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30693492)

I'm always surprised at just how many of us there are on Slashdot.

One big circle!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30689198)

That has to be the lamest train setup I've ever seen, at least add some boxcars, a couple switchers and some scenery.

If he spruced it up a little bit then he could have had some fellow over-the-hill model railroad nuts in the picture with him.

Re:One big circle!! (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690758)

Well, there was the sealed black box which it was hauling around, but don't look at that.

Makes more sense than... (5, Funny)

Jon.Laslow (809215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689224)

Makes more sense than using random passengers to test your airport bomb-detecting technology.

Oh. Right.

Spherical Torus? (2, Interesting)

tunabomber (259585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689230)

Those two surfaces are fundamentally different, topologically speaking. Would a spherical torus would look something like a 4-sided triangle? Or sound like one hand clapping?

Cosmic.

Re:Spherical Torus? (3, Informative)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689288)

Re:Spherical Torus? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689316)

Mmmmm forbidden radioactive doughnuts.

Re:Spherical Torus? (2, Informative)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689310)

Those two surfaces are fundamentally different, topologically speaking. Would a spherical torus would look something like a 4-sided triangle?

I was wondering the same thing: "a plasma that is shaped like a sphere with a hole through its center (a "cored apple" profile [wikipedia.org] , see Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak), different from the "donut" (toroidal) shaped plasmas of conventional tokamaks. This innovative plasma configuration may have several advantages, a major one being the ability to confine a higher plasma pressure for a given magnetic field strength. Since the amount of fusion power produced is proportional to the square of the plasma pressure, the use of spherically shaped plasmas could allow the development of smaller, more economical fusion reactors."

Re:Spherical Torus? (1)

shabtai87 (1715592) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689472)

I agree, they should have at least come up with a less contradictory name. I'm sure there's someone's name that can be slapped on it: CoolPlasmaMan's Torus or something, then it's just a special case of a Torus which seems to match it's actual topology.

Re:Spherical Torus? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689646)

Would a spherical torus would look something like a 4-sided triangle?

Triangle Man, Triangle Man.
Triangle Man hates Spherical Torus Man.
They have a fight.
Plasma Man wins.
Triangle Man.

Re:Spherical Torus? (1)

onionman (975962) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690126)

Those two surfaces are fundamentally different, topologically speaking. Would a spherical torus would look something like a 4-sided triangle? Or sound like one hand clapping?

Cosmic.

Hahaha.... and when you mod out by the commutators, they're still---oops! Sorry, I was math-geeking out there.

Re:Spherical Torus? (0, Offtopic)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690172)

like goatse man's ass, if his cheeks were well rounded?

Re:Spherical Torus? (2, Interesting)

mako1138 (837520) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690664)

I think it's called a "spherical" torus because the design represents an evolution from a plain torus. You squash a donut into a roughly spherical space. IIRC the advantage of this configuration over a tokamak is that the stability of the plasma is improved. However there is a fundamental trade-off between stability and energy density, so these designs are less likely to be workable sources of fusion energy.

Scrooge McDuck (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689258)

... did something like this in one story, I'm fairly sure.

Those toy trains are very versatile.

Casey Jones (4, Funny)

Dupple (1016592) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689286)

Casey Jones, streaming and decaying
Casey on the Californium Express

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig3GcDBjQN4

Re:Casey Jones (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689338)

I've got a whole shelf in my garage full of Americium, I just don't know where to get rid of it.

Re:Casey Jones (1)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689820)

Dump it in Canberra... they would never even notice.

Use to spend a lot of time in Lower Templestowe.

Re:Casey Jones (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689872)

The proper response from a Lower Templestowe person would be to say "Dump it in Bulleen".

Re:Casey Jones (1)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689990)

You are right... especially if the wind is blowing westward... might get Heidelberg too!

I loved my years in Australia, but alas I am back in the ole USA once again.

Re:Casey Jones (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689722)

Casey Jones, streaming and decaying
Casey on the Californium Express

All aboard for the Little Lego Moderators.

Uncomfortable (3, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689332)

I know the physicists mean well, and it probably gets the job done, but for some reason the notion that they use a toy train to calibrate a nuclear reactor would not make me feel more secure about living near a nuclear reactor.

Maybe if they'd used slot cars.

Hey, now there's a generational reference. Who among us remembers slot cars? And who among us is willing to admit it?

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689374)

I remember slot cars as if it were just last week [nomadslotracing.com] . Any "obsolete" passtime you can think of, their is probably somebody out there doing it at this very minute.

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689578)

Can't be *that* obsolete if you can still buy them in hobby stores. Best set I had when I was a kid had jumps and loops. Always found them rather boring compared to R/C cars, though, which you can get in the same scale now.

My grandmother had a set of mechanical slot tracks, that actually had a long chain that ran through a gully... you could stick pins in just about any matchbox car and race them around that track. Also pretty boring, but *there's* something so obsolete that would be a challenge to find today...

Re:Uncomfortable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30692634)

We actually just found out there's a place locally that has *5* of the full size slot car tracks (for the 6"x3" ish cards, not those sissy home ones).

Apparently it's some shop with half RC half slot car stuff in it.

Pretty sweet. Just need to dig out the old box of cars and go and try it out :)

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689386)

Still some interest in them here [pacific.net.au] . My nephew lives near this one and had had his birthday there a few times.

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

vxice (1690200) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689414)

I find it much like while at the dentist and they are passing all sorts of sharp objects drills and such that they are forcing into my mouth they are engaging in completely casual conversation like it is nothing unusual. While I'm sure that for them it is unusual and as boring as my job once it has been repeated many times it makes it no less stressful for me.

Slot cars? (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689902)

So... You are saying that you were a kid sometime between 1912 [wikipedia.org] and now?

Or are you trying to say that you are Scottish? [imdb.com]

Re:Slot cars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30690496)

Maybe he means the sixties when slot racing was big enough to support several magazines, and your local department stores carried a selection of tracks, complete with one on display.

But that's just a guess -- yes, he should have at least googled a moment to see that it's not a generational reference. Even my downtown toyshop has Scalectrix in the window.

(As for admitting it, I raced Eldon 6v cars on Stombecker 12v track. Good times.)

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690264)

Nothing wrong with that... How about real trains. Have CSX carrying nuclear fuel bundles down track about 1/4 mile from where I'm sitting right now, on a fairly regular basis.

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

wb5bbw (143967) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690406)

I remember slot cars with great fondness... I think there might be a slot car track still in town.
I still have my Revell set in the garage, but the controllers are MIA.

That being said, how about using a Cadillac power antenna to move the neutron source in/out of a 5W teaching reactor? We had to do that when the safety office wouldn't let us use underclassmen to do it.

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

Miamicanes (730264) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690818)

> Who among us remembers slot cars? And who among us is willing to admit it?

Who said they ever went away? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc39leiusGY [youtube.com]

Hmmm... I think I just decided what my nephew is getting for Christmas when he's at least 4 or 5 :)

Re:Uncomfortable (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#30692800)

I brought a slot car set for my wife for Christmas.

Selling this to management . . . (3, Funny)

e_armadillo (14304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689418)

"So you want to put a toy train in my reactor?" Condescending glare and awkward silence . . .

Re:Selling this to management . . . (3, Insightful)

shabtai87 (1715592) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689510)

I wonder if it started as a joke: Admin: and how do you propose we sprinkle the neutrons around our reactor? Physicist(sarcastically): I dunno, we put it in a toy train and run it in circles. Admin: OK, get me the results by Fri.

Ran 3 days and didn't jump the track? (2, Informative)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690674)

As someone with with years of experience in model railroading, that story is "real scary."

You mean to tell me you are going to count on a model train going around its tracks for 3 days straight without someone, at some time during the 3 days, to either have to give the train a nudge when it gets stuck, or put it back on the track?

Re:Ran 3 days and didn't jump the track? (1)

Philip_the_physicist (1536015) | more than 4 years ago | (#30691102)

I remember reading that shortly after the Hornby Dublo model of a BR Standard 4 tank engine came out (in the 50s), one was used to take samples into an irradiation chamber. Unfortuantely I can't find it onlline, but I believe it was mentioned in an editorial of /Railway Modeller/ about 10 years ago. I believe in that case, they actually had a train, rather than a single unit, and the system remained in use for many years.

Re:Ran 3 days and didn't jump the track? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30692324)

Dude, even a G scale won't jump the tracks that often if you've not got hella crappy rail n stock,.

Re:Selling this to management . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30692098)

"So you want to put a toy train in my reactor?" Condescending glare and awkward silence . . .

kinky...

Trains under Christmas trees? (1)

SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689456)

From the first line of TFA:

During the holiday season, many people place toy trains on circular tracks beneath their Christmas trees.

I've never heard of that before.

Re:Trains under Christmas trees? (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689540)

Here, LMGTFY: http://images.google.com/images?q=christmas%20tree%20trains [google.com]

I just wish people would set up toy trains to carry dishes back to the sink... it was one of my childhood fantasies before I found out how expensive those toy trains were :P

Love the new look. (1)

Mycroftab (1433189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689484)

I didn't have time to read the article but I must say I love the new look of the TARDIS.

Atomic Train (1)

Ruvim (889012) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689488)

So, that is what is the real Atomic Train [imdb.com] !

Shining Time Fusion? (1)

zeroRenegade (1475839) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689520)

All I can picture is the tiny conductor from shining time station driving around the toy train as the thermal reaction is occurring.

Re:Shining Time Fusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30690554)

Funny, I thought of Dr. Gordon Freeman riding the train into Black Mesa in the opening scenes of Half Life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k2fYoCYVcU [youtube.com]

Link to the original article at the lab (5, Informative)

cruff (171569) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689576)

Re:Link to the original article at the lab (1)

stiller (451878) | more than 4 years ago | (#30693470)

Interestingly, that's a ColdFusion document.

Yoko (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30689582)

Masa Ono is not the first Ono to dabble in the field of nuclear physics. After a certain other Ono became radio-and-TV-active some people voiced their concern by writing a song about her efforts. The song originally emerged under the title "Yellow submarine", but can now be found in many renditions, most recently as track no. 1 on Masa Ono's debut CD "Toying with US" under the title "Yellow train". Also featured on "Toying with US":

2. Bono's riding on my train
3. One way ticket
4. New clear power
5. Geiger buzz
6. Yellow stain
7. Tingling all over
8. Choo choo kaboom
9. French fries
10. Chinese take-out
11. Afghan delight
12. Toying with US

Coming to a nuclear shelter near you!

To the guy in the photo...are you reading this? (1)

carlmenezes (204187) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689596)

We'd all just like to know :)

And more reliable than the LHC! (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689622)

Could we start using more stuff off the shelves of Toys'R'Us for our high energy physics devices?

Component Construction Models. Extension sets. Made of hardened plastic. Safe for kids.

A paper about this would make a brilliant entry for an Ig Nobel.

C'mon physicists! Let's set that K'nex plastic ball accelerator!

Re:And more reliable than the LHC! (1)

jocabergs (1688456) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689794)

Quite sure a Lego accelerator would preform better than CERN has thus far.

Re:And more reliable than the LHC! (1)

Arimus (198136) | more than 4 years ago | (#30691900)

No... but if you had said Meccano we might have believed you.

Iran (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30689676)

And immediately all imports of toy trains into Iran have been marked as suspicious

Trailer Park Boys (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689792)

Running dope to the US using a model train set up running across the border. Looks like they used the same gauge too.

Re:Trailer Park Boys (1)

kneemoe (1042818) | more than 4 years ago | (#30693556)

Funny I just sent a link to this page to a friend and titled the email "Patrick Swayze Express"

nothing new (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689836)

I believe Doc Brown used a toy train to test his hypothesis and timing of sending the car into the crosswire from the lightning bolt, thereby providing the 1.21 gigawatts necessary to run the flux capacitor and sending Marty McFly back to the future,... ;-)

Re:nothing new (1)

Merls the Sneaky (1031058) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690638)

Sorry, it was a red convertible.

Re:nothing new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30690852)

I liked that movie, but it really bothered me that they didn't have any kind of shunt resistor to handle the over-current. I mean, I'll go ahead and suspend disbelief that they were able to perfectly time an operation using a data source with a two minute window of precision, but that they were somehow able to glean the exact voltage and current supplied by the bolt, and that it conveniently was precisely the amount needed for trip?

Kink and Sausage (1)

TiberSeptm (889423) | more than 4 years ago | (#30689922)

I'm really not a fan of this sort of reactor design because it greatly reduces one of my favorite features of toroidal plasma devices- kink (aka sausage) instability. It's just not proper science without a little kinky sausage.

Glowing trains (4, Funny)

woboyle (1044168) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690010)

I can just see the adv. on eBay now: Slightly used, somewhat radioactive train set. Glows in the dark! Minimum bid $50.00

Re:Glowing trains (1)

alc6379 (832389) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690696)

I dunno man... Al Qaeda might be all over it...

Re:Glowing trains (1)

woboyle (1044168) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690794)

Heck, I got my grandkids the Lionel Area 51 train set for xmas a few years ago. It had a glow-in-the-dark UFO following it!

Re:Glowing trains (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 4 years ago | (#30693108)

NSA agent 1: They have what?
NSA agent 2: A radioactive toy train.
NSA agent 1: That's... hardly scary. How radioactive is it?
NSA agent 2: I guass if you licked it for a few days straight you might get a measurable dose.
NSA agent 1: What are they going to do wth it, run it into a squirrel?
NSA supervisor: HAVE YOU HEARD? THE TERRORISTS HAVE RADIOACTIVE TRAINS NOW! GO TO SEVERE TERROR ALERT LEVEL! CLOSE ALL AIRPORTS!
NSA agent 2: *sigh* That's what they're going to do: Tell us about it.


Meanwhile in a cave somewhere in the Middle east:
Osama bin Laden: *watches radioactive toy train run on an elaborate course* Wheee! Best birthday present ever!

Re:Glowing trains (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 4 years ago | (#30691748)

Slightly used, somewhat radioactive train set. Glows in the dark! Minimum bid $50.00

I'd bid for that. Unfortunately, I fear that it would probably cost a good deal more than 50 of any common currency unit. (I spent 30 "pint vouchers" on 2 copies of the Hornby [note] catalogue last year ... and decided that while a trip back to childhood pleasures would be fun, I really couldn't justify it. Well, I couldn't justify it while sober.

Also unfortunately, and prosaically, I would be surprised if the lab didn't have a number of other setups which could readily benefit from regular repetitive motions (sorry, that one just slipped out). Obviously circular motion is a cinch now ; ellipsiodal motions can be done to a fair approximation with flexible track ; oscillatory motion would only need a couple of detectors and some glue logic to reverse directions.
There's a good reason that "Meccano" was popular in labs through the world a few decades ago, and this is an extension of the pretty obvious. A few months ago I was watching a kid running away from it's mother at the bus stop (into the path of an oncoming bus) and before the mother caught the child, I'd sketched a design for an "emergency stop" for toddlers which is derived from £30 worth of radio-controlled toy motors. You'd be surprised what you can do if you apply a bit of sideways thinking to an unusual problem. Great Egg Race, anyone?

Half Life? (1)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690498)

Am I the only one who looked at the that lab and rails and thought of Gordon Freeman "On a Rail"?

I thought so.

Re:Half Life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30690842)

Glad I'm not the only one. Look at the guy, that's Dr. Vance.

Reminds me of ... (1)

Sepiraph (1162995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30690800)

The CS department in University of Waterloo has a train set in their real-time computing lab, not sure if it is still there now since it has been a good 5 years since I was last there.

radioactivity understanding fail (1)

klparrot (549422) | more than 4 years ago | (#30691756)

Californium is only slightly radioactive, so the toy train did not glow green after its ride in the fusion reactor.

Gaah! Why does this misunderstanding persist? Generally, things which are exposed to radioactivity do not themselves become radioactive (and radioactive things do not glow green, for that matter).

Re:radioactivity understanding fail (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#30691994)

Yes, they do, or the shielding on reactors would not become contaminated over time, and a lot of secondary nuclear waste wouldn't be such an issue, and NASA would have an easier time shielding astronauts from solar radiation. It's not an instantaneous transformation: it's not like a flu virus or cooties, it takes significant exposure to high energy radiation.

Whether they glow is relative to the type and *amount* of radiation. I take it that you don't remember radium watch dials?

Re:radioactivity understanding fail (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30692472)

Whether they glow is relative to the type and *amount* of radiation. I take it that you don't remember radium watch dials?

No argument about secondary radiation, but I think you'll find the green glow is a myth. Blue glow, yes - see Cerenkov radiation. I think you'll find that the radium watches work by energizing phosphor or some similar fluorescent material. In other words, it is the phosphor which is glowing green, not the radium itself.

Re:radioactivity understanding fail (2, Informative)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30693220)

Generally, things which are exposed to radioactivity do not themselves become radioactive

It depends on what form it is exposed to. If it is exposed to radioactivity in the form of a solid or dust or particulate material suspended in the air then it is quite possible for it to become contaminated.

If an object is exposed to radiation then it depends on the type. Neutron radiation is known for activating stable materials and making them radioactive while alpha, beta and gamma radiation generally does not.

Chuff Chuff Chuff... (1)

MarkTBSc (1270662) | more than 4 years ago | (#30691996)

It's amusing. I work at a British research establishment that used to do work for the Royal Navy. We had a little set of toy train tracks set up in the garden to help with our work on missile targeting systems.

Anonymuous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30693434)

I was sad to see that the article did not cite Enrico Fermi using a home made version of a toy locomotive to calibrate the first operation of the cyclotron at the the University of Chicago after the war. see "Enrico Fermi" by E. Segre

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