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Mythbusters to Test Cockroach Radiation Myth 573

Posted by Zonk
from the still-be-here-when-we're-gone dept.
redwoodtree writes "An article on the site for the Tri-City Herald sums it up perfectly: 'Contrary to popular belief, not a significant amount of research goes into cockroach radiation.' To test the old saw about 'the cockroaches being the only survivors of a nuclear war' Discovery Channel's Mythbusters are going out to Hanford Site, where plutonium was manufactured for the first nuclear bomb. It's the single most polluted nuclear waste site in the U.S. The Mythbusters are going to take cockroaches and other insects and apply successively higher doses of radiation in a controlled setting."
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Mythbusters to Test Cockroach Radiation Myth

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  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Friday October 19, 2007 @04:55PM (#21048073) Journal
    Cockroaches are spread out and hidden in walls so they're in places that less radiation will hit. After nuclear winter, they can eat all the carcasses of higher life forms and just plain survive. I never thought,"Hey, cockroaches can withstand more heat than other living organisms." We all know the bacteria that lives in deep sea vents will last because it doesn't get it's energy from the sun, and its shielded from the radiation above ground. Life will continue after nuclear winter, that is certain, but will human life continue is the question.
  • by dtolman (688781) <> on Friday October 19, 2007 @04:58PM (#21048143) Homepage
    According to "The World Without Us", by Alan Weisman - most of the roaches in the industrialized world will be Dead within 3 years of humanity disappearing! [] Thats without even the radiation. So don't worry... when we go, the roaches will go with us.
  • Re:Safety? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelKaiserProScri (691448) on Friday October 19, 2007 @05:00PM (#21048181)

    Gamma irradiator. Basically, big lead tube with a gamma source inside. You can't get it out. You can't expose the source to the outside world. There is a lead "airlock". You put the roach inside. Irradiate. Release. I went to a High School that had a gamma irradiator. We DID this experiment. Exposed roach to greater than 1000, but less than 10000 roentgens. We weren't real precise. But the roach lived long enough for us to decide we better squish it before it reproduced.

    Oh, yes, "stuff doesn't glow when you expose it to radiation". Not 100% true. Some stuff DOES. Namely most crystals. One of the most impressive examples is Sodium Chloride. Yep, table salt. Irradiate it overnight. The gamma rays knock the electrons up to a higher energy level. But since salt has a very tight crystaline structure, they don't snap back down immediatly. Remove from irradiator, and over the course of the next 24 hours, it glows pretty brightly (bright as a glow stick) in a funky red-orange light (spectra of sodium). Eventually all the electrons snap back down to their ground state and it quits glowing. Not radioactive at any point while this is going on. The only thing it emits is red-orange photons which are not "radiation" by most people's standards. (Well it is, but ALL light is...)

  • by tftp (111690) on Friday October 19, 2007 @05:02PM (#21048205) Homepage
    Historically speaking, humans usually murder everything and everyone if that is in any way beneficial or entertaining.

    But really the question is not that simple. Would you savagely murder one fluffy dog to save 100M people from a deadly virus? Would you savagely murder one human to save 100M people from a deadly virus? Would you savagely murder 1M humans to save 100M people from a deadly virus? Where is your threshold? I believe this is what Protectors of the Ringworld couldn't wrap their mind about.

  • by fm6 (162816) on Friday October 19, 2007 @05:11PM (#21048345) Homepage Journal
    I think you answered your own question.

    I heard an interview once with a scientist who wanted "endangered species" to include the less cuddly critters. He cited the fact that when the last surviving California condors were captured for breeding, the first thing that was done to them was a delousing. It never occurred to anybody that if a species is endangered, then their parasites must be endangered as well.
  • by quasius (1075773) on Friday October 19, 2007 @05:16PM (#21048441)
    Not sure I really like the post; but just noting that if he had said how the mythbuster's alleged atheism allowed them to be more "objective," "scientific", or whatever, he would have been modded up "Insightful."
  • by Arthur B. (806360) on Friday October 19, 2007 @05:42PM (#21048867)
    does not mean coackroaches would inherit the earth. A good experiment would need to test radiation exposure over different generations... what if radiation makes them sterile? What if they have so much mutations due to radiation they start to drift and look the precious genetic information that allowed them to survive. We are constantly degenerating and are constantly evolving to preserve our fitness... would the coackroaches be able to do that if genetic drift was significantly increased? Maybe, maybe not.
  • Re:Safety? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:27PM (#21049545) Journal
    >Hanford is not contaminated to the point that it's dangerous to just be there.

    Maybe it isn't now, but I had friends working for Bechtel, who were doing radiochemical testing of natural ponds to try and figure out which one was going to go critical *first*. I'm not joking or exaggerating: there was so much leaked radioactive material on/in the ground that they expected it to concentrate through natural drainage to above critical mass. One friend told me about several of the criticality incidents they had, where waste plutonium had accumulated in oil-filled coolant ducts and started thermal runaway reactions (that boiled all the oil, displacing all the plutonium chips, which then settled back down to start the cycle again...) So while Hanford might be okay now, I wouldn't go there unless I was with someone who had worked there a long, long time. That's the only place I've ever visited where they gave me a heavy steel tag with a number stamped on it, for rugged identification, along with the film badge.
  • Re:Safety? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:39PM (#21049721) Journal
    For the record, if you dump enough short-wave radiation into almost anything non-metallic, it'll phosphoresce. (quick terminology: if a molecule absorbs short-wavelength radiation and immediately re-emits longer-wave radiation, that's fluorescence. If it absorbs radiation by kicking electrons up into orbits that are higher-energy but the electron has the same spin as a lower-energy electron in an unoccupied orbital, the activated electron can't simply drop back down, so it hangs out for a while until quantum mechanics effects allow it to drop down into a lower orbital and emit an electron: that's phosphorescence. Things that "glow in the dark" are phosphorescence, the time-delay version of fluorescence.) Anyway. I worked with a megawatt-level deep UV laser that would fire for about a millisecond every second when we were analyzing the beam cross-section, to try and see if any of the optics were dying. If they were, spots in that lens would glow after it fired. If paper was in the beam, it'd glow yellow (and be yellow after a shot. After the second it'd be brown and after the third it'd be gone.) So would cloth. Or skin. Kind of cool, in a painful way.
  • I've done this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rimcrazy (146022) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:39PM (#21049731)
    I use to radiate parts for Motorola back when I worked for the Military Electronics group. We use to use the Gamma cell over at ASU. We put in a cockroach one Friday and came back Monday to check on it. Can't remember if it was the new gamma cell or the old one. The new one was around 20KRads/Min the old one was around 1KR/min. Either way, it was in the chamber for about 3 days or about 4320 mins. Bounded it got between 86Mega Rads or 4.3Mega Rads. It lived. There is little or no water in a cockroach so there is nothing to absorb the radiation. To Gamma radiation, they are immune. To be a correct experiment they would need to expose across a broad range of particles and radiation and not just Gamma.
  • Re:Sorry... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lgw (121541) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:39PM (#21049737) Journal
    What happens if you nuke Cthulhu?

    He reforms in 15 minutes, and *now* he's radioactive.
  • by MikeDirnt69 (1105185) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:46PM (#21049823) Homepage
    Why does the first post is *ALWAYS* funny? :D Doesn't meter the subject, the first one is always a joke or a sarcastic tag. Not complaining, just pointing my finger on it! Now regarding the cockroach... WHY IN THIS F****** WORLD THEY WANT TO KNOW IT?
  • Re:Safety? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Deadstick (535032) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:55PM (#21049963)
    Oh, yes, "stuff doesn't glow when you expose it to radiation". Not 100% true. Some stuff DOES. Namely most crystals.

    And the cooling water in a reactor...


  • Re:Dude! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday October 19, 2007 @07:25PM (#21050337) Homepage
    Apparently my mother's high school had a fun incident where the chemistry class accidentally manufactured a highly unstable and dangerous compound and then painted a lot of the lockers with it (it glowed). They shut down the school for a week? or two? while hazmat teams flew in from across the country. There wasn't any more mixing of actual chemicals... I seem to recall hearing that they also lost a chemistry prof who spilled acid on his lap, and he had to be hospitalized... anyway, there was some craaaazy stuff back then. Nowadays they're practically afraid to mix salt with water.

    (insert your-mom or genetic-mutant joke here)

  • Re:Safety? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2007 @07:48PM (#21050615)
    I have worked in the 318 building, and personally seen the gamma irradiator they are using. There are several redundant passive safety features built into the thing. It would be extremely hard to hurt yourself or get significant dose even if you tried.
  • Re:Not studied? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:05PM (#21050813)
    That Dr Karl took May Berenbaum's Rad Roaches [] took out some cool parts and did not give credit... The original is a good read:

    [(Wharton 1959)] conclusively demonstrated that the American cockroach was, compared with the rest of the known irradiated insect world, a wimp; P. americana died at doses of 20,000 rads. In comparison, it was noted that D. melanogaster [fruit flies] had an LD100 [the dose that kills any member of the species] of 64,000 rads and the parasitoid wasp Habrobracon an LD100 of 180,000 rads.

    Dr Karl lifts the vocabulary and omits the data... good journalism.

  • Re:Safety? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tap (18562) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:46PM (#21051169) Homepage
    I'm pretty sure the myth of enough plutonium accumulating in some kind of duct to reach criticality, which dispersed it, until it accumulated enough to blue flash again, and so on is "confirmed".

    I remember people talking about this back when I worked there, and some of them were actually around when it happened.
  • by ThanatosMinor (1046978) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:56PM (#21051283)
    Roaches, in fact all insects, are very resistant to short doses of radiation. The reason behind this is that radiation does the most damage to cells when they're dividing. It just so happens that roaches molt about once a week, which is a single cell division. If you aren't radiating the roach when this is happening, your radiation will mostly fall on deaf ears.

    However, after a nuclear blast, the fallout would be a source of constant radiation and would probably kill any roaches that had to live in it for a week or two.
  • Re:Safety? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelKaiserProScri (691448) on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:14PM (#21051425)
    That's a different animal entirely. It's "Cerenkov radiation" [] . The speed of light in a vacuum is the absolute hard maximum speed most particles can travel at. (ok, just below it for anything with mass). But the LOCAL speed of light varies by medium. Speed of light through air is a bit slower. Speed of light through water is a LOT slower. The blue glow comes when a particle is emited near the speed of light through air and hits the water. It momentarily exceeds the speed of light through water (allowed since it is not exceeding the speed of light in a vacuum), but has to slow down. Slowing down ditches energy which must go somwhere, a blue photon in this case.
  • by Peaker (72084) <gnupeaker@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:38PM (#21051611) Homepage
    A bit offtopic, but I recently discovered that soapy water kills cock roaches faster than all commercial poisons I tried!

    Try it, its pretty amazing.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming