What’s this stuff called radiation? What’s it doing here?
People make a big sensation, want us all to fear.
With Japan so far away, why do they raise alarm?
Is there cause for great emotion, can it cause you harm?
“Radiation” as a noun means “what is radiated”
Radio is radiation, be it loved or hated
If it wasn’t, we’d have no Marconi nor TV
How’d you live sans its baloney served to you for free?
Microwaves are radiation, radar waves are too
Moving upwards through the spectrum, infrared will do
To keep you warm, though it is radiation just the same
Your radiator there is radiating—thus the name!
Then we get to visible, and here we call it “light”
The Sun gives us its solar radiation (curb your fright!)
Don’t look directly, you’ll be fine, sunglasses, you’re no fool
But solar UV tans your skin and worse, so play it cool.
All these things and more are “radiation” and as such
You know that they can only hurt you if you get too much
Other things called “radiation” really are no worse
And I’ll try to talk a bit about them here in verse.
The differences from this point on may be a bit surprising
Everything that came before is called “non-ionizing”
Ionizing radiation is another beast
But treat it with respect and you need not fear it the least.
All the things I’ve named are photons, and I’m not yet done
Two more names are yet to go and then we can move on
Next from last is X-ray, yes it is a funny name
Wilhelm Roentgen found them and he is the one to blame.
X is for “unknown” because he knew not what he had.
X-rays help see things inside us, so it’s not so bad.
X-rays outline bones and teeth so that they can be fixed
Used properly, X-rays are good, so they should not be nixed!
Last are gamma rays, and for them I won’t make excuses
They can be dangerous, and yet they also have their uses
They help treat cancer, preserve food, and look at welds for real
What X-rays do for setting bones, the gamma does for steel.
All granite gives off gammas, granite countertops expose you
To just a bit of radiation, no I don’t propose you
Replace them with Formica! Oh, for crying in your beer!
Don’t do something in panic when there’s nothing there to fear.
People live on granite, and they build of blocks and sheets
They are healthy as the rest, as anyone who meets
them can attest. No, you don’t have fret or cry or worry.
But I have more stuff to discuss, and now I have to hurry!
Out there beyond the photons, there are things of matter too
There’s alpha, beta, neutron, muon, cosmic ray and you
Will have a fun time picking them apart; they are around
And you can’t get away from them, up high or underground.
Go fly up in an airplane or go skiing up in Vail
Muons rain down from the sky like subatomic hail
The muons come from cosmic rays, which come from far away
They fall upon the earth through both the night and through the day
Muons fall like rain, and the gammas rise like fountains
From the skies and rocks up in those craggy Rocky Mountains.
All this is radiation, but one thing we know that’s true
Is the people who live in it may be healthier than you.
Alphas come from atoms, and they are like atoms too.
An alpha is a helium minus electrons two.
Radon gives off alphas, and to look deep down at it
It doesn’t seem to do you harm unless you smoke – so quit!
Betas are electrons that are kicked out with some speed
They might sound dangerous, but the truth is that you need
Potassium to stay alive. You get some betas that way.
You get betas from bananas, and they’re healthy for you, aren’t they?
The last one is the neutron, which you will not often see
They are made inside reactors and they don’t last long, so free
Your mind from worry ’bout them; they are not likely to getcha
‘Less you get near a reactor core. You’ll never be, I’ll betcha!
So here’s a radiation primer, written up as verse
Maybe you could do it better. I know I could do it worse!
Version 1.1, ©2013 by the author.
This poem is redistributable for non-commercial use under the Creative Commons license.
Note: This poem first appeared as a comment by Engineer-Poet. He is a long time contributor to the deep discussions held here on Atomic Insights and uses a picture of William Shakespeare as his commenting icon. He provided the following introduction.
Since my honor as a poet has been slighted in another thread, I’ll defend it constructively by trying to come up with something that explains radiation to the people unfortunate enough to have been taught science by public schools, newspapers or (heaven forbid) the television. I can’t hold a candle to luminaries like the Digital Cuttlefish, but I can make things rhyme and scan and even make sense.
When I first asked his permission to promote his poem to a front page post by a Guest Author, he demurred, asking for some time to smooth off the edges of his rough draft. This is version 1.1; like most people who have been around a while, Engineer-Poet recommends caution before getting too excited about a “.0” version of anything. I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. Here is his cover note for the published version:
All right, as promised, here’s the version with the splinters sanded off and a quick and dirty coat of lacquer on it (but what do you expect from an author of doggerel whose inspiration is Ogden Nash?).