Can I split an atom in the privacy of my home?

I woke up this morning with the desire to split an atom. What is the minimum equipment necessary to achieve such a goal? Is this something that I could realistically accomplish at home?

Deviled eggs should do the trick.

Got a smoke detector? There you go.


This chap did it.

Edit: Actually, I think he almost did it. He was very close.

Owning a smoke detector enables me to split an atom? Please elaborate.

There is radioactive materials in a smoke detector. Now all you need is a really, really sharp knife.

Well, it was a sort of a joke, 'see. BUT, atoms are being split within it (assuming it’s the ionization type) all the time; it contains a minuscule amount of Americium, a radioactive alpha emitter. Each Americium atom which releases an alpha particle becomes a Neptunium 2376 atom, which eventually decays (lather, rinse, repeat) until stable bismuth is attained.

Aha. Well I was really more interested in actively splitting an atom, not merely owning an atom that will eventually fall apart all by itself. Where’s the fun in that, I ask you.

Hmm. From Szlater’s link I see that “Radioactive Boy Scout” David Hahn has also apparently been mixed up in some smoke detector-related shenanigans. Apparently there’s a lot more to smoke detectors than I was previously aware.

At this point I should probably emphasize that I am not “Radioactive Boy Scout” David Hahn.

Anyway, Q.E.D. brought it up first. Or should I say “R.B.S.” D.H.E.D?!

David Hahn came up here in another thread. They had a pic with his mugshot—sores all over his face, presumably from radiation exposure. I wonder if he ever made (bald) Eagle Scout.

He got the Eagle Scout, joined the USN, and then joined the US Marine Corp.

I think you’d either need a source of (thermal) neutrons, or some form of atom smasher to really ‘split’ an atom. You could, for instance, ionize your atom, and then accelerate the resulting ion with electromagnetic fields and have it hit a target hard enough to cause it to expel its constituent nucleons, however, that’s probably a bit of a hassle to set up.
The other possibility would be to get your hands on some element that undergoes spontaneous fission, expelling one or more neutrons in the process, then moderate those neutrons (though that’s probably not strictly necessary; slow moving neutrons are more likely to be absorbed, but that just means that fast moving ones are absorbed far less often, which doesn’t need to bother you if you’ve got enough of those little buggers and don’t care about establishing a controlled chain reaction), have them hit atoms of a sufficiently high mass, which then will undergo fission themselves.
Now, how’d you do that for real? Easy: go to Amazon and buy a bit of uranium ore, which both undergoes spontaneous fission (at a very very low rate), and will fission upon neutron capture. As a moderator, you can use water. You won’t get anything close to a chain reaction, but chances are you’ll induce a few fission events – split some atoms.

You hear that, Mods? We can replace you with water. So, shape up!

C’mon, show a little respect. Per their weighty authority, we’d use HEAVY water. Anybody got some extra deuterium they aren’t using?

Careful with that stuff. :wink:

Okay! This sounds doable. More so than the electromagnetic field approach, anyway, I think. Although I do have quite a lot of fridge magnets handy, if it should come to that. I like the idea of having an atom smasher handy anyway, just in case. Plus it’d make a great conversation piece.

So. I get me some spontaneously fissionable material (from a smoke detector! Zing!), and some mail-order uranium, and some water. (I actually have one of these three things already.) Now! How do I put them together to induce atom splittage? And how will I know when it happens? Should I use a Geiger counter, or watch it in the dark, or what?

You might want to ask about the risks involved.

Americium is a gamma emitter and inhaling or ingesting it even in small quantities isn’t going to end well.

No, AM-241 (the isotope used in smoke detectors) is primarily an alpha emitter; it’s gamma emissions are minute. See here (PDF doc).

Ahh… okay.

It still poses a risk through inhalation though doesn’t it?

Absolutely. So, don’t do that.

Oh yeah, yeah. Risks involved, etc.? Do I need to actually take the Americium out of the smoke detector? I presume it’s labeled in there, somehow.

How dangerous is this stuff to inhale really? It’s a smoke detector! Isn’t the possibility that it may burn up kind of the whole point?