Harry Potter and the Curse of Radiolysis

Sciency Words: (proper noun) a special series here on Planet Pailly focusing on the definitions and etymologies of science or science-related terms.  Today’s Sciency Word is:


A while back, I told you about a few scientific terms that sounded to me an awful lot like magic spells.  I couldn’t shake the mental image of Harry Potter style wizards and witches screaming these words at each other at the top of their lungs.

All of these terms have to do with the breaking of chemical bonds, caused by light (photolysis), electricity (electrolysis), or heat (pyrolysis).  In that original Harry Potter themed post, I promised that if I found another scientific term that fit this same pattern, I’d draw someone in Slytherin colors casting the spell.  All the Hogwarts houses should be represented, right?

Well friends, that the day has finally come! I was recently skimming through this online glossary of astrobiology terms when I stumbled upon the word:

Radiolysis is the breaking of chemical bonds due to ionizing radiation.  To be clear, because there are lots of different forms of radiation out there, radiolysis refers to ionizing radiation only.

That’s the kind of radiation that most people find really scary, and rightfully so.  Ionizing radiation is most commonly associated with atomic bombs and nuclear reactors and stuff like that.  It’s also alarmingly common in outer space.  The Sun, along with all the other stars in the cosmos, are giant thermonuclear reactors, after all!  And despite their best efforts, all the best witches and wizards at NASA have still not found a shield charm that adequately protects our astronauts from the radiolysis curse.

I guess what I’m saying is radiolysis is some pretty dark and dangerous magic, so it’s appropriate that we get to see a Slytherin student playing around with this spell!

P.S.: And in case you were wondering why I was skimming through a glossary of astrobiology terms… I was doing preliminary research for a certain alphabet themed challenge that’s coming up soon.  Stay tuned!

4 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Curse of Radiolysis

  1. The only substance effective at stopping ionising radiation is lead. Apparently the Latin for lead is plumbum. That word reminded me of Hufflepuff, so perhaps a few disposable Hufflepuffs might be able to stop the radiolysis spell.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sounds legit to me! The problem for NASA is, of course, building spacecraft out of lead would make them way too heavy. Perhaps a few brave Hufflepuffs could conjure some lead once they’re already in space. That would save a lot on launch costs!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve read that in a number of places. I don’t remember the details, but “What If” by Randall Monroe has a chapter about how much stopping power water has against ionizing radiation. But I’m guessing you still need a whole lot of water tanks to really protect your spacecraft.

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.