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Science Communication

Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Uranium duck

by Brianna Barbu
February 21, 2024


A fluorescent green glass duck made of uranium glass.
Credit: Sarah O'Konski/Andrea Barajas

Sarah O’Konski, a chemistry undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, has been collecting uranium glass since her first year of college, when she saw a video on social media about how to find it at thrift stores using ultraviolet light—real uranium glass is fluorescent. She says radiation is one of her favorite topics in chemistry, and her career goal is to work on contrast agents and radiopharmaceuticals. She found her first piece, an ornate bowl from the 1860s, on a trip with her dad to an antique shop during winter break. Now she always carries a UV flashlight in case of spontaneous uranium glass hunts. She has even found uranium glass in her grandmother’s house.

A fluorescent green glass bowl made of uranium glass.
Credit: Sarah O'Konski
This bowl, which dates back to the 1860s, is the oldest item in Sarah O'Konski's vintage uranium glass collection.

O’Konski has about 30 pieces of uranium glass, all of them secondhand except for this duck, which she bought from a glassmaker on Etsy. It may not be vintage, but she says the duck is her favorite. She keeps it in her dorm room and trots it out for demonstrations to discuss photochemistry. “It’s great for getting people’s attention—it’s not every day you see uranium glass, especially a piece that’s shaped like a duck,” she says.

Credit: Sarah O’Konski

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