Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mythbusters to Test Cockroach Radiation Myth

(photo: Summer Rayne Oakes and her pet giant Madagascar hissing cockroach Hercules.)

Posted by Zonk on Fri Oct 19, 2007
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."

The show is expected to air in about 4 months.

Discovery Channel testing cockroach resistance to radioactivity

Published Friday, October 19th, 2007
The Associated Press

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - Can you save yourself by jumping in a falling elevator? Is a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building lethal? Would cockroaches survive a nuclear holocaust that killed everything else?

The final question is being tested this week at the nearby Hanford nuclear reservation by a team from the "Mythbusters" show on the Discovery Channel, which expects to air the episode in about four months.

"It's been on the original list of myths since day one," said Kari Byron, who appears on the cable television series and was in town with Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci for the tests.

The crew is using an irradiator in the basement of Hanford's 318 Building just north of Richland.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory usually uses the device to calibrate dosimeters, which measure radiation exposure to humans and animals, and to check for radiation damage of video cameras, fiber optic cables and other equipment.

Lab operators agreed to the research for purposes of science education and workers donated their time, in some cases using part of their vacation allotments.

On Thursday afternoon, Byron and Imahara were cramming their uncooperative critters into a specially built roach condo to be exposed in the irradiator.

"I had to put myself in quite the mind-set to do it," Byron said.

A scientific supply company sent 200 cockroaches for the tests, "all laboratory-grade, farm fresh," Imahara said.

A control group of 50 will get no radiation, 50 others will be exposed to 1,000 rad, a lethal load of radiation for humans, 50 will be exposed to 10,000 rad and the last 50 to 100,000 rad.

The bugs will be watched over the next couple of weeks to see how soon they die.

"Contrary to popular belief, not a significant amount of research goes into cockroach radiation," Imahara said.

Flour beetles and fruit flies, also being irradiated for comparison, were a snap compared with the cockroaches, which did not take well to being corralled within a tiny block arrangement designed to make sure each bug gets the same dosage.

"They are very fast. They are very aggressive. They want to get away," Byron said. "They are opportunists."

The surviving bugs get a chauffeured ride back to San Francisco. A "Mythbusters" employee has been detailed to drive them because airlines won't let them in the passenger cabin and they can't be placed in the baggage hold without wrecking the experiment.

"We have to maintain reasonable temperature and humidity so they don't go into shock," Imahara said.

The show, while perhaps best known for exploding outhouses and cement trucks, presents good examples of scientific method and encourages developing a questioning attitude, said Michelle Johnson, a technical group manager for the national lab.

"(Viewers) should learn that things don't glow if exposed to radiation," she said. "And they won't be radioactive after being exposed to radiation."

But will the roaches grow really, really large?

"Some of our staff do believe in comic book logic," Byron said.

And if that happens, it will be a really good show, she said.

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