Soon after I published the tale of the Radioactive Boy Scout, I got an email from a learned friend suggesting that I might actually be reporting a non-scientist’s interpretation. One of the lines therein was:
I think you might be reporting a non-scientist’s interpretation
I didn’t argue, because actually, that might well have been the case. But then a lot of my readers are non-scientists, so maybe that was ok.
Yes, it was a story about science, but it was also a story about the human spirit, perseverance, adventure, and the triumph of 1990s American high school education. A tale of a Boy Scout gone rogue (or not, depending on your viewpoint of exactly what Boy Scouts are supposed to be like).
And so I went out and I found a piece that included a bit more science, but also a lot more of the human side of things. A more detailed account of the whole story, containing paragraphs like (but not limited to):
David still had to isolate the thorium-232 from the ash. Fortunately, he remembered reading in one of his dad’s chemistry books that lithium is prone to binding with oxygen—meaning, in this context, that it would rob thorium dioxide of its oxygen content and leave a cleaner form of thorium. David purchased $1,000 worth of lithium batteries and extracted the element by cutting the batteries in half with a pair of wire cutters. He placed the lithium and thorium dioxide together in a ball of aluminum foil and heated the ball with a Bunsen burner. Eureka! David’s method purified thorium to at least 9,000 times the level found in nature and 170 times the level that requires NRC licensing.
It’s a much better account of things from start to finish, and while it does corroborate much of that first version; the extra words allowing for more concise descriptions throughout.
As I mentioned, there’s clearly more science in there too. Which is great.
Long story short then, should make everyone much happier.
Especially the scientists.