[ RadSafe ] Frederick Soddy Nobel Laureate - Imminent disposal of Soddy's Box

Keith McKay mckaymeister at gmail.com
Tue Jun 12 17:10:38 CDT 2012

Dear Colleagues

As we all know Frederick Soddy was one of the early pioneers of study of 
radioactivity. He collaborated with Rutherford and Marie Curie in 
preparing for the first time isotopes of the Uranium and Thorium decay 
series and discovering the secrets of radioactive decay. Soddy carried 
out painstaking radiochemical separations, whilst he was a lecturer at 
Glasgow University, and the pure samples he produced were later kept for 
posterity in a number of glass vials (11 in total) in a wooden box which 
was latterly referred to as Soddy’s Box. It is believed that the box may 
also contain a sample of radium given to him by Marie Curie. At the time 
they were produced these samples would be absolutely unique and priceless!

Soddy carried out these separations whilst he was at Glasgow University 
between 1904 - 1914 so the samples are now 100 years old, and over that 
period they were carefully looked after by generations of radiochemists 
and more recently by the Unversity's Radiological Protection Adviser in 
the Physics Department. I have had the privilege of seeing Soddy's box 
in the radioactivity store of the Chemistry Department many years ago 
(when I was much younger) and being in awe of a plain wooden box which 
held these precious historical samples. You can imagine my dismay when I 
heard a few days ago that the University was planning in the next few 
days to sign the order to dispose of the samples as radioactive waste! 
They will be taken to Winfrith for conditioning i.e. diluted with 
concrete and then sent to the UK LLWF at Drigg . So, samples which were 
priceless and unique when produced, will now be destroyed with no option 
for retrievable storage.

I have no idea why Glasgow University has now decided to dispose of 
these unique samples. I can't imagine the costs of storage would be that 
high. The University has a marvellous museum, The Hunterian Museum, 
which, with a bit of funding could curate and display the samples safely 
to the general public and this would probably be cheaper than disposal. 
It can't be above the wit of man to do this. I don't know if the 
University has investigated this option or even looked for external 
funding to preserve these unique historical samples.

I believe these samples are uniquely important to the history of 
radiaoactivity and radiochemistry and must be preserved. If you feel the 
same too, can I ask list members to email the Secretary of the 
University Court, David Newall, urging the University to delay a 
decision on the fate of Soddy's box and look at ways of preserving the 
samples for future generations. His email address is 
David.Newall at glasgow.ac.uk

Here is a brief biography of Soddy's time at Glasgow 

Thank-you and Best Wishes

Keith McKay
Hamilton, Scotland

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