Atomic Advent Calendar

In 2019, in the before-times of the pandemic, we put together a daily listing that we called the Atomic Advent. It featured toys, games, and activity sets created as a result of the new atomic bomb and Cold War. These range from uranium mining games, to GI Joe uranium set, to the atomic chemistry sets, to Homer Simpson’s atomic van, and more.

We’ve turned these posts into a fun, interactive Advent Calendar to help with your countdown for the holiday season. Check back each day from December 1 to 24, for a different door to open to your wildest atomic childhood toys.

Visit the Atomic Advent Calendar for your daily dose of atomic nostalgia.

Ernest Lawrence marker

Ernest Lawrence marker in the columbarium

Ernest Lawrence was born on August 8, 1901, and died of complications from ulcerative colitis on August 27, 1958. He is interred along with his wife, Mary “Molly” Lawrence, and his parents, Carl and Gunda Lawrence at the Oakland Crematorium and Columbarium.

Ernest Lawrence was the winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the cyclotron. He also founded the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Ernest Lawrence and family at the Nobel Prize ceremony
Lawrence and family at the UC Berkeley special ceremony for his receipt of the Nobel Prize. (Left to right): Mary “Molly” Lawrence (his wife), Ernest Lawrence, Gunda Lawrence (his mother), John Lawrence (his brother), and Carl Lawrence (his father). Photo courtesy of Berkeley Lab.

Building upon the cyclotron, Lawrence’s calutrons — hybrids of the cyclotron and a mass spectrometer — were created for the the Manhattan Project for electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes. The Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, containing these massive calutrons “racetracks” using over 14,700 tons of silver, enriched the uranium-235 and shipped the first few hundred grams to Los Alamos laboratory in March 1944.

Model 2302 Super Sniffer

On the corner of Ruby Hill Avenue and Monroe Street is the Eureka Sentinel Museum, housed in the old Eureka Sentinel newspaper building in Nevada.

Nuclear-Chicago’s Model 2302 Super Sniffer

An unassuming display case of artifacts from the Sentinel offices contains the 1954 Nuclear-Chicago Model 2302 Super Sniffer.

To capitalize on the uranium fever spreading across the West, Nuclear-Chicago created this low cost, general purpose instrument for the detection of x-rays, gammas, and high energy betas, specifically designed for uranium prospecting. Using standard flashlight batteries, it could be used continuously for up to 2 hours. The unit came with earphones, batteries, radioactive check source, a U.S. government prospecting book and instructions — all for $49.50.

Nuclear-Chicago was founded by Jim Schoke, and later joined by John Kuranz and Thomas Mitchell, in 1946. All three were members of the Army’s Special Engineer Detachment of the Corps of Engineers and worked on the Manhattan Project at the Metallurgical Laboratory (MetLab) at the University of Chicago working for the instrument group.

Enjoy the 1955 Warner Bros. short film, “Uranium Fever.”