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Radiation levels explained: An exposure infographic

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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There’s been a lot of confusion and concern about radiation in the past few weeks. As part of the Building a Better Explainer project at N.Y.U.’s Studio 20, we decided to create a visual explainer of radiation levels, inspired by some recent presentations over at XKCD and Information is Beautiful.

Both compare radiation doses from everyday activities (like eating a banana or flying across the country) to doses near the Fukushima plant, as well as other disasters like Chernobyl. However, we felt that neither infographic captured a true sense of the relative differences between these exposure levels.

Rather than use a lot of tiny boxes or a logarithmic scale, we placed all the numbers on a vertical linear scale (it’s pretty long, just keep on scrolling down). Our hope was to transform something you can’t see, smell, taste or feel into something a bit more tangible.

Keep in mind that this is a highly simplified visualization, and there are all sorts of factors that go into radiation and risk: whether the exposure is acute or chronic, internal or external, partial or whole body, to an adult or child. Some of these caveats are addressed here, here, and here.

So here it is! Click here (and then click on the little magnifying-glass-like cursor) to see large, or click here to see it very, very large, or download the PDF of it here. We welcome any comments or thoughts.


About the Author: Lena Groeger is a graduate student in New York University’s Science Health and Environmental Reporting Program. Before moving to New York she worked as a graphic designer for Brown University Health Education, and before that studied philosophy (the obvious choice for a science journalist). You can check out her website, follow her on Twitter, and find more of her writing on Scienceline.


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Comments 7 Comments

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  1. 1. Glendon Mellow 9:17 am 04/8/2011

    Terrific infographic Lena! It does capture something about the scales that wasn’t immediately striking in the other (also excellent) graphics you mention. The distance and colours are simple and effective.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jvsciguy 5:49 pm 04/8/2011

    Only PDF link works. Graphic links are all pointing at a non-existent file.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Bora Zivkovic 7:14 pm 04/8/2011

    They work for me. They are very large files, though, so perhaps they can sometimes fail to load for everyone. Try again?

    Link to this
  4. 4. jvsciguy 7:36 pm 04/8/2011

    This is the URL from teh link. It is unavasilable to me.

    This one, however, works:

    This one also does not work:

    Link to this
  5. 5. Bora Zivkovic 9:28 pm 04/8/2011

    Hmmm, will check with IT folks, but they all work for me.

    Link to this
  6. 6. jasongoldman 10:11 pm 04/8/2011

    Awesome explainer! I really liked the others you linked to when I first saw them, but this one blows them out of the water.

    Link to this
  7. 7. weaverluke 12:22 pm 04/18/2011

    Nice visualisation, Lena.

    We have taken similar data (the data on and visualised it in a human context:

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts on our version!

    Link to this

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