News & Notes

The Atomic Whirl



A neutron walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “How much for a beer?”

The bartender says, “For you, no charge.”


Perhaps it’s the graphic designer and scientist in me, I’ve always loved the look and design of the “atomic symbol.” Atomic energy has always had its dark side. In light of the Fukushima travesty, that is even more evident. But to me the atomic symbol always stood for modernity and the promise of a better future. The symbol was based on the model of the atom as devised by Ernest Rutherford (the so-called Rutherford Atom) whereby electrons spin around a nucleus––although you usually don’t get to see the protons and neutrons in the central nucleus of these logos.

The atomic symbol is most often integral to United Nations, national, and international energy commission logos, but also can be found on the uniforms of the Albuquerque Isotopes minor league baseball team, the opening and closing credits of TV’s Big Bang Theory and of course the Genius Bar of every Apple Store in the country. A similar symbol––with a wonderful name, the Atomic Whirl––is the symbol of the American Atheists organization although I’ve never seen one hanging from a gold chain around someone’s neck.


Just the other day I ordered a packet of matchbox labels to obtain a cute cat image. Finding an atomic themed label therein was the bonus prize. I’ve included above a few versions of the atomic symbol from my itsy-bitsy atomic collection. And you can find below some interesting research by Alex Wellerstein who is even more fascinated with this logo and its various incarnations from 1949 on.