Radium Detector - L.M. Karnasch - San Francisco

Radium Detector - L.M. Karnasch - San Francisco

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This radium detector is part of an accession of materials connected with Dr. Robert Abbe [b. April 13, 1851; d. March 7, 1928], a surgeon and early proponent of radium therapy. The object is incomplete and the connection with Abbe is not confirmed. The detector is missing a small metal flag that would have been attached to the wire near the tip of the aluminum sheet. This flag would respond to static electricity, effectively acting as an electroscope. An initial charge was imparted to the device and the flag would rise. It would gradually fall as this static charge dissipated. The presence of a radioactive object would hasten this process by ionizing the air around the detector. L. M. Karnasch, who sold this device around 1919, called for two such detectors to be used in tandem. One detector was placed next to the object to be tested and the other was positioned about six inches away, acting as a control.
In 1903, Dr. Abbe started experimenting with radium on seeds, animals, himself, and patients, becoming one of the first American physicians to do so. He found success in treating some abnormal growths and cancers, publishing his findings and becoming an authority in the field of radiotherapy. Abbe was a surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital in New York. Near the end of his life, Abbe suffered from the effects of aplastic anemia, likely caused by years of radium exposure, requiring regular blood transfusions.
Electrical Experimenter, March (1919) p. 779 https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/electricalex619181919gern
Abbe, R., “Radium and Radio-Activity," Yale Medical Journal 10 (1904) p. 436-447.
Gibson, C., "Robert Abbe 1851-1928," Annals of Surgery 88 (1928) p. 794-797.
Stark, R., "Robert Abbe: Pioneer in Plastic Surgery," Bull. N. Y. Acad. Med. 31 (1955) p. 927-950.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Radium Detector
radium detector
Physical Description
yellow (overall color)
gray (overall color)
paper (overall material)
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of New York Academy of Medicine, through Steven A. Pelovitz, Vice President for Management and Fiscal Affairs
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Pharmacy
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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