By Louise Schoneveld.
Currently showing at the National Gallery of Australia is the wonderful artwork by Ken + Julia Yonetani entitled – The last temptation. The artwork is make up of beautiful uranium glass chandeliers, with each chandelier size representative of a country’s nuclear output. There are 31 chandeliers in the collection, however only a small selection are shown here in Canberra.
While walking amongst the chandeliers, I began to think; how does the glass glow?
You may have noticed in the images that the normal candles/bulbs of these chandeliers have been replaced with UV lights (black lights). These bulbs emit light mostly in the ultraviolet spectrum which is not visible to our eyes, but you can see some visible violet light that is emitted from these bulbs which causes the bulbs to have 1cm of eerie violet glow that I was unable to catch in photographs.
EDIT 25/05/2016 – good video on how black lights work
This ultraviolet light excites the uranium in the glass causing electrons to jump between shells and emit light in a visible wave length for us to admire. Under white light, uranium glass can be a wide range of colours.
Uranium glass contains very small traces of depleted uranium, a by-product of the uranium enrichment process. Uranium glass has been made for years; since the early 19th century, known as then as Vaseline glass.
But how much uranium is in this glass? is it safe? – I hear you ask.
Yes it is perfectly safe, although the glass is emitting some radiation, it is such a small amount and you will spend such an insignificant amount of time with the objects that it will pose no risk to you. If you slept with a banana in your bed for a year you would probably have a larger dose of radiation than from visiting at these chandeliers*.
The exhibition is located in the contemporary building of the NGA, between the flags on the Lake Burley Griffin. This display is available to view from Wednesday to Sunday until 3 April 2016.