I was recently gifted a handheld blacklight for purposes of finding uranium seaglass, so I thought I would take this time to share a little bit about these glowing beauties!
Uranium glass, as the name implies, is glass that contains a small percentage of the chemical element uranium. Our most common association with the radioactive element is its role in nuclear fission. However, the implementation of uranium to color glass dates back as far as 79 AD, a discovery made by R. T. Gunther of Oxford University after finding a mosaic with yellow glass in a Roman villa contained 1% uranium oxide. But the glowing glass that most folks are familiar with was created in the mid-19th century, with popularity peaking between 1880-1920.
The production of uranium glass was curtailed during WWII due to government confiscation of uranium for work on the Manhattan Project. Regulations and restrictions were lifted after the Cold War, though it’s never been produced in the same quantity, and according to the EPA, glass producers stopped the use of uranium as a colorant in the 1970’s, though this method is still in use by a few other countries.
The iconic transparent green glass began to evolve into different opacities of milky greens and yellows as producers of the glass realized they could add different chemical compounds such as iron oxide and achieve a new look.
Uranium glass is often referred to as vaseline glass, due to the propensity of the pale yellowish-green glass to resemble the appearance of petroleum jelly. The two terms, however, are not interchangeable (if you want to be a stickler about it).
I started this article with the mentioned of a blacklight, and here’s why. If you hold uranium glass underneath a blacklight it will glow with exceptional brilliance! Like, really glow. Why does it glow under blacklight? I have no idea. I’m not sure why uranium fluorescences except to say that it is due to its radioactivity. Beyond that, it’s outside my scientific comprehension. For me it’s enough to chalk it up to the magic of the natural world and leave it at that. Keep in mind that uranium glass will not glow in the dark; you have to use a blacklight.
Ok, so our common sense is telling us that radioactive material is dangerous to our health and should be avoided at all cost, no? As far as uranium glass in concerned, it’s fairly harmless. You probably get more radiation from the sun than you do by holding a piece of uranium glass. The trace amount of uranium used in the making of the glass is so small as to be innocuous. Still, I wouldn’t recommended eating it.
There you have it folks! My complete working knowledge of uranium glass. I hope you enjoyed and feel free to share your uranium glass pieces with me and I’ll add them to the post!