The fascinating science and history of radiation
More than ever before, radiation is a part of our modern daily lives. We own radiation-emitting phones, regularly get diagnostic x-rays, such as mammograms, and submit to full-body security scans at airports. We worry and debate about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the safety of nuclear power plants. But how much do we really know about radiation? And what are its actual dangers? An accessible blend of narrative history and science, Strange Glow describes mankind's extraordinary, thorny relationship with radiation, including the hard-won lessons of how radiation helps and harms our health. Timothy Jorgensen explores how our knowledge of and experiences with radiation in the last century can lead us to smarter personal decisions about radiation exposures today.
Jorgensen introduces key figures in the story of radiation—from Wilhelm Roentgen, the discoverer of x-rays, and pioneering radioactivity researchers Marie and Pierre Curie, to Thomas Edison and the victims of the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. Tracing the most important events in the evolution of radiation, Jorgensen explains exactly what radiation is, how it produces certain health consequences, and how we can protect ourselves from harm. He also considers a range of practical scenarios such as the risks of radon in our basements, radiation levels in the fish we eat, questions about cell-phone use, and radiation's link to cancer. Jorgensen empowers us to make informed choices while offering a clearer understanding of broader societal issues.
Investigating radiation's benefits and risks, Strange Glow takes a remarkable look at how, for better or worse, radiation has transformed our society.
Jorgensen, a radiation biologist at Georgetown University, walks readers through the history of humanity's interaction with radiation in order to help them understand and evaluate current risks. As he mixes science, history, and biography, Jorgensen runs through a roster of early radiation-related deaths, including those of Marie Curie, the "radium girls," and Manhattan Project scientists. He also covers more recent incidents, such as the Fukushima meltdown and other nuclear-related accidents. Jorgensen's emphasis on health leads him to shine some positive light on human uses of various forms of radiation, including cancer treatments, and the role that radioactivity plays in understanding DNA. He introduces a few basic mathematical formulae, but ably explains concepts and allows lay readers to easily follow along. In the third part of his book, Jorgensen examines some specific threats radon in homes, cell phones, and nuclear power plants, for example and assesses their risks. Threats from cell phone usage and tuna irradiated after Fukushima, it turns out, are basically nonexistent, but he is not so sanguine about nuclear power plants or weapon security. This is a solid, accessible work, but perhaps its most beneficial aspect is that Jorgensen equips readers with enough knowledge to make their own risk assessments, whether it is of a potential medical diagnostic test or a particular consumer decision.