October 30, 2007 — Theodore Gray, Cofounder, Wolfram Research, Inc.; Founder, Touch Press

The spinthariscope, invented and beautifully named by William Crookes in 1903, is a device for seeing individual atoms. Or at least, seeing the death of individual atoms.

A spinthariscope consists of a needle, similar to a watch hand, positioned in front of a zinc sulfide luminous screen, with a magnifying glass focused on the screen. At the end of the needle is a small patch of radioactive material. Originally radium was used; more recently polonium, uranium and americium have been found to be safer.

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