The most dangerous toy for kids ever on display at the Ulster Museum

The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab sold for $50 in 1951/52. It came with four types of uranium ore, a Geiger counter to gauge how contaminated with radiation the child had become during the experiments, and three different radiation sources – gamma, beta and alpha.

Described as world’s most dangerous toy, which at the time was the most elaborate atomic energy educational set ever produced, it is on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the Elements exhibition.

The toy was aimed at “the junior scientist” and included in its manual more than 150 experiments. It had a spinthariscope (shows the incidence of alpha particles by flashes on a fluorescent screen) and a cloud chamber that would reveal the speeding particles produced by atomic disintegration – the particles traveled at 12,000 miles per second.

Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab

An advert for the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, which only sold for one year. Apparently, not many parents were keen on buying one for their kids. (Image: Wikipedia)

It also had a government manual – “Prospecting for Uranium” – and a form the young scientist could fill in when he or she needed replacement radioactive sources.


Adding the toy to its collection was a real coup for the Museum, said National Museums Northern Ireland’s Curator of Palaeontology Dr. Mike Simms.

Dr. Simms said:

“Since opening last year, the Elements exhibition has proved most popular with our visitors. I came across the opportunity to purchase this fabulous and unusual set and am delighted it will now be displayed in the exhibition.”

Gilbert Cloud Chamber

The Gilbert Cloud Chamber, when assembled. (Image: Wikipedia)

“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!”

“Perhaps it wouldn’t pass today’s health and safety standards but it is a perfect fit for the Elements exhibition. And, on the eve of the Northern Ireland Science Festival, timing for this new addition couldn’t be better.”

The Elements exhibition is based on the periodic table and explores how 90 natural elements, including hydrogen and carbon, make up everything there is around us, plus all else in the rest of the Universe.

Dr Mike Simms

Dr. Simms with the most dangerous toy ever made at the Elements exhibition, Ulster Museum. (Image: Ulster Museum)

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab was a lab set for children produced by Alfred Carlton Gilbert, an American athlete, toy-maker, magician, entrepreneur and inventor of the well-known Erector Set.

His intention was to allow children to create and observe chemical reactions using radioactive material.

Despite insisting that the toy was perfectly safe, Mr. Gilbert’s toy never became particularly popular and was taken off the shelves one year of being launched. The Erector Set brand (metal toy construction sets), on the other hand, sold well.