World’s most dangerous toy ‘Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab’ goes on display at museum


The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab – dubbed as the world’s most dangerous toy – has gone on display at the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland. The toy has earned the title of most dangerous toy because it includes four types of uranium ore, three sources of radiation, and a Geiger counter that enables parents to measure just how contaminated their child had become.

The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab was only available between 1951 and 1952 and was the most elaborate atomic energy educational kit ever produced. The toy was one of the most costly toy of the time retailing at $50 – said to be equivalent to $400 today.

The education set also included a spinthariscope and a cloud chamber that revealed the speeding particles produced by atomic disintegration. The toy came with a government manual titled “Prospecting for Uranium” and parents even had the option to order replacement radioactive sources.

The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab was being sold as an educational kit “for the junior scientist” and allowed budding nuclear physicists to perform over 150 experiments.

“I think visitors will find it amazing and amusing that this set allowed budding young scientists to measure radioactivity of Uranium in the comfort of their own homes!” said Dr Mike Simms, Curator of Palaeontology at National Museums Northern Ireland.

“Perhaps it wouldn’t pass today’s health and safety standards but it is a perfect fit for the Elements exhibition.”

  • Quiet_Think

    Actually, natural uranium is quite safe to handle. There have been many much more dangerous toys that have actually harmed many a child, even toys that have killed children. This one is probably better entitled “the most perceived to be dangerous by the uninformed”.

  • RadiCalMan

    More kids are killed each day on their bicycles than were ever harmed by a Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab. The phenomena of radiation and radioactivity have saved and enhanced life far more than any deaths associated with it. In fact, without radiation and radioactivity, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Just remember that without nuclear fusion, there would be no sunshine.

  • EB

    “Radiation is good for you.” – Anne Coulter.

  • Kraas

    You don’t get leukemia just from touching a bike, though.

  • Esra Erimez

    I’d be glowing with happiness if I got this toy.

  • PeterA

    A handful of Uranium ore is about as radioactive as 10 bananas.

    I hope you don’t eat bananas! you might get leukemia!

  • Paula

    Funny. I see what you did there.

  • Peter D.

    A friend of mine had one of these. It was absolutely fascinating to the see the scintillation from the uranium source.

  • ikester8

    World’s COOLEST toy, you mean.

  • ObserverOfEvidence

    Shhhhh! Don’t tell them that lightbulbs emit radiation.

  • brian

    yes it is. prolonged exposure dramatically lowers cancer rates:

  • DisquisTL


    The chemistry set I had when I was 11 had Sodium Ferrocynide and a number of acids in sufficient quantity that you could have easily killed everyone in a commercial building or department store by gassing them. Much more dangerous than the Uranium particle sources we used when I was going for my high energy physics degree at university.

  • Charliemopps

    Some Uranium ore is relatively safe. Just how pure is it? There’s ore out there that’ll outright burn you if you touch it, other is almost completely inert. Assuming what was in this kit was safe, or that they even checked before they sent it would be rather silly.

  • Rick

    decades ago, at a swap meet, my father and I found a chemistry set, all glass tubes and stuff, in a neat wooden case, that advertised having radioisotopes in it. Being young in my case, and Dad not being into this sort of thing, we turned away from the kit thinking that any effectiveness would have went stale years before. We’d decided the next day it would’ve been cool for the glassware but by then it was gone.

    A couple of years later, finally learning what “half life” really meant, caused some serious head banging and stories like this engender intense regret. It wasn;t the same set as shown, and at my age I have no recollection as to what it had other than “radioactive” on the box.

    As for perceived or welcome-to-real-life-potential-danger, Razer-type scooters have “harmed” more kids (and adults) than any number of chemistry sets.

  • Rick

    if it weren’t for *decades* of anti-science nucleophobes, the need for coal plants and rolling blackouts to feed large urban centers would have been wiped out long ago. Anti-EV activists wouldn’t have d*ck to say about “coal pollution being factored into electric vehicle mileage”.

  • Bob231

    Utter nonsense.

  • John J Phillips

    I remember those good old days. You could buy intresting items without the twitch of an eyebrowe. Now just try to get some carbontetrachloride and they are all over you. I mean what gives?

  • John J Phillips

    Ban the bicycle!

  • John J Phillips

    What you mean the ones with mercury in them? Ohn no here comea the hazmat team.

  • John J Phillips

    You said polonium! You dont have a brolly with a needle on the end do you. Are you a russian rable rouser?

  • Alex Besogonov

    You don’t put polonium on a needle – that’s for ricin. Polonium goes really well with tea or coffee.

    What do they teach kids those days in schools…

  • John J Phillips

    But is it granulated or filltered? Would you like some Earl Gray sir?

  • Alex Besogonov

    Granulated? Even assasins have some standards!

  • Intonsus

    Try telling Mme Curie that

  • Rocketman

    I used to own Texas Instruments watches back in the early 80’s that had a tritium backlight – LOVED them – always lit!

  • rps

    I know what you mean – I remember buying a half liter (or so) of nitric acid for some fairly innocent experiments involving the production of contact explosive. The end product wasn’t very hazardous, but the almost full glass bottle with the rest of the acid was still sitting on our basement shelf (its label coming off) when I left the nest. I sometimes wonder whatever became of it.

  • Miss Washu

    The weather outside if frightful
    Inside is educational
    Let’s get the lab and play
    make them glow
    make them glow
    make them glow

  • ObserverOfEvidence

    To the contrary, florescent bulbs (with mercury) emit a lot less radiation than regular bulbs. Regular blubs spew ridiculous levels of radiation in the infrared bands.

  • ciph3ro

    Actually funny enough bananas are quite radioactive. Look it up.

    I didn’t believe it until it was mentioned on a SciShow episode.

  • ciph3ro

    You could eat all “radiation sources” in that set and be just fine.

    It’s the world’s most dangerous toy to non-scientists.. because it’s sounds sensational.. *le sigh*

    Bananas are quite radioactive. I wonder if we should stop eating them. Their even clones of each other on top of it. :)

  • EB

    I’m sure Coulter had this one arcane study in mind when she opened up her trap. But thanks for playing.