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The Making of the Atomic Bomb

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Ratings: (0)|Views: 1,375|Likes:
Published by Paul Schumann
Really great book - a mix of the history of science and technology with personalities and social-political forces. It reads like a detective story with questions of morality raised but unanswered. The book is long – 886 pages, but it is definitely worth the effort. I’ve collected a few examples from the book that I really liked. I have not put them in quotes but they all come straight from the book. In some cases I’ve added my footnotes to help understand the selection.
I hope that someone writes a screen play around the struggles that the emigrant scientists had with politicians and the military when they tried to convey the potential of the atomic and later the thermonuclear bombs, and their impacts on political systems.
This is a personal selection of excerpts that appealed to me as I read the book. It’s by no means complete. For an excellent review, read the New York Times book review, “The Men Who Made the Sun Rise” by William J. Broad (http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/09/19/specials/rhodes-making.html)
Really great book - a mix of the history of science and technology with personalities and social-political forces. It reads like a detective story with questions of morality raised but unanswered. The book is long – 886 pages, but it is definitely worth the effort. I’ve collected a few examples from the book that I really liked. I have not put them in quotes but they all come straight from the book. In some cases I’ve added my footnotes to help understand the selection.
I hope that someone writes a screen play around the struggles that the emigrant scientists had with politicians and the military when they tried to convey the potential of the atomic and later the thermonuclear bombs, and their impacts on political systems.
This is a personal selection of excerpts that appealed to me as I read the book. It’s by no means complete. For an excellent review, read the New York Times book review, “The Men Who Made the Sun Rise” by William J. Broad (http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/09/19/specials/rhodes-making.html)

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Published by: Paul Schumann on Jan 30, 2013
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The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Paul SchumannReally great book
a mix of the history of science and technology with personalities and social
politicalforces. It reads like a detective story with questions of morality raised but unanswered. The book is long – 886 pages, but it is definitely worth the effort. I’ve collected a few examples from the book that I reallyliked. I have not put them in quotes but they all come straight from the book. In some cases I’ve addedmy footnotes to help understand the selection.I hope that someone writes a screen play around the struggles that the emigrant scientists had withpoliticians and the military when they tried to convey the potential of the atomic and later thethermonuclear bombs, and their impacts on political systems.This is a personal selection of excerpts that appealed to me as I read the book. It’s by no meanscomplete. For an excellent review, read the New York Times book review, “The Men Who Made the SunRise” by William J. Broad (http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/09/19/specials/rhodes
making.html)
Hungarian Contributors
Out of the prospering but vulnerable Hungarian Jewish middle class came no fewer than seven of thetwentieth century's most exceptional scientists: in order of birth, Theodor von Karman
1
, George deHevesy
2
, Michael Polanyi
3
, Leo Szilard
4
, Eugene Wigner
5
, John von Neumann
6
and Edward Teller
7
. All
1
a Hungarian
American mathematician, aerospace engineer and physicist who was active primarily in the fields of aeronautics and astronautics. He is responsible for many key advances in aerodynamics, notably his work onsupersonic and hypersonic airflow characterization. He is regarded as the outstanding aerodynamic theoretician of the twentieth century.
2
a Hungarian radiochemist and Nobel laureate, recognized in 1943 for his key role in the development of radioactive tracers to study chemical processes such as in the metabolism of animals. He also co
discovered theelement hafnium.
3
a Hungarian polymath, who made important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, economics, andphilosophy. He argues that positivism supplies a false account of knowing, which if taken seriously undermines ourhighest achievements as human beings.
4
a Hungarian
born American physicist and inventor. He conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patentedthe idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature thatresulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb.
5
a Hungarian American theoretical physicist and mathematician. He received a share of the Nobel Prize in Physicsin 1963 "for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularlythrough the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles"
6
a Hungarian
born American mathematician and polymath. He made major contributions to a vast number of fields, including mathematics, physics, economics, computer science, and statistics. Von Neumann was a pioneerof the application of operator theory to quantum mechanics, and in the development of functional analysis. Hewas a principal member of the Manhattan Project and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Along withTeller and Stanislaw Ulam, von Neumann worked out key steps in the nuclear physics involved in thermonuclearreactions and the hydrogen bomb.
 
2Paul Schumann,http://insights
foresight.blogspot.com/,paschumann2009@gmail.com  seven left Hungary as young men; all seven proved unusually versatile as well as talented and mademajor contributions to science and technology; two among them, de Hevesy and Wigner, eventuallywon Nobel Prizes.The mystery of such a concentration of ability from so remote and provincial a place has fascinated thecommunity of science. Recalling that "galaxy of brilliant Hungarian expatriates," Otto Frisch remembersthat his friend Fritz Houtermans, a theoretical physicist, proposed the popular theory that "these peoplewere really visitors from Mars; for them, he said, it was difficult to speak without an accent that wouldgive them away and therefore they chose to pretend to be Hungarians whose inability to speak anylanguage without accent is well known; except Hungarian, and [these] brilliant men all lived elsewhere."That was amusing to colleagues and flattering to the Hungarians, who liked the patina of mystery thatromanticized their pasts. The truth is harsher: the Hungarians came to live elsewhere because lack of scientific opportunity and increasing and finally violent anti
Semitism drove them away. They took thelessons they learned in Hungary with them into the world.They all began with talent, variously displayed and remembered. Von Karman at six stunned his parents'party guests by quickly multiplying six
figure numbers in his head. Von Neumann at six joked with hisfather in classical Greek and had a truly photographic memory: he could recite entire chapters of bookshe had read. Edward Teller, like Einstein before him, was exceptionally late in learning
‐‐‐
or choosing
totalk. His grandfather warned his parents that he might be retarded, but when Teller finally spoke, atthree, he spoke in complete sentences.Von Neumann too wondered about the mystery of his and his compatriots' origins. His friend andbiographer, the Polish mathematician Stanislaw Vlam, remembers their discussions of the primitive ruralfoothills on both sides of the Carpathians, encompassing parts of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland,populated thickly with impoverished Orthodox villages . "Johnny used to say that all the famous Jewishscientists, artists and writers who emigrated from Hungary around the time of the first World War came,either directly or indirectly, from those little Carpathian communities, moving up to Budapest as theirmaterial conditions improved." Progress, to people of such successful transition, could be ametaphysical faith. "As a boy," writes Teller, "I enjoyed science fiction. I read Jules Verne. His wordscarried me into an exciting world. The possibilities of man's improvement seemed unlimited. Theachievements of science were fantastic, and they were good."Leo Szilard, long before he encountered the novels of H. G. Wells
8
, found another visionary student of the human past and future to admire. Szilard thought in maturity that his "addiction to the truth" and
7
a Hungarian
American theoretical physicist, known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb", eventhough he claimed he did not care for the title. Teller made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecularphysics, spectroscopy, and surface physics. He was an early member of the Manhattan Project charged withdeveloping the first atomic bombs. During this time he made a serious push to develop the first fusion
basedweapons as well, but these were deferred until after World War II.
8
Wells's first non
fiction bestseller was
 Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress UponHuman Life and Thought 
(1901). When originally serialized in a magazine it was subtitled, "An Experiment inProphecy", and is considered his most explicitly futuristic work. It offered the immediate political message of the
 
3Paul Schumann,http://insights
foresight.blogspot.com/,paschumann2009@gmail.com  his "predilection for 'Saving the World' " were traceable first of all to the stories his mother told him. Butapart from those, he said, "the most serious influence on my life came from a book which I read when Iwas ten years old. It was a Hungarian classic, taught in the schools, The Tragedy of Man
9
."
Complementarity
At Como
10
in pleasant September Bohr
11
began with a polite reference to Volta, "the great genius whomwe are here assembled to commemorate," then plunged in. He proposed to try to develop "a certaingeneral point of view" which might help "to harmonize the apparently conflicting views taken bydifferent scientists." The problem, Bohr said, was that quantum conditions ruled on the atomic scale butour instruments for measuring those conditions
‐‐‐
our senses, ultimately
worked in classical ways. Thatinadequacy imposed necessary limitations on what we could know. An experiment that demonstratesthat light travels in photons is valid within the limits of its terms. An experiment that demonstrates thatlight travels in waves is equally valid within its limits. The same is true of particles and waves of matter.The reason both could be accepted as valid is that "particles" and "waves" are words, are abstractions.What we know is not particles and waves but the equipment of our experiments and how thatequipment changes in experimental use. The equipment is large, the interiors of atoms small, andbetween the two must be interposed a necessary and limiting translation.The solution, Bohr went on, is to accept the different and mutually exclusive results as equally valid andstand them side by side to build up a composite picture of the atomic domain. Nur die Fulle fuhrt zurKlarheit: only wholeness leads to clarity. Bohr was never interested in an arrogant reductionism. Hecalled instead
the word appears repeatedly in his Como lecture for "renunciation," renunciation of the
 godlike determinism of classical physics where the intimate scale of the atomic interior was concerned.The name he chose for this "general point of view" was complementarity, a word that derives from theLatin complementum, "that which fills up or completes." Light as particle and light as wave, matter asparticle and matter as wave, were mutually exclusive abstractions that complemented each other. Theycould not be merged or resolved; they had to stand side by side in their seeming paradox andcontradiction; but accepting that uncomfortably non
Aristotelian condition meant physics could knowmore than it otherwise knew. And furthermore, as Heisenberg's recently published uncertainty principledemonstrated within its limited context, the universe appeared to be arranged that way as far down ashuman senses would ever be able to see.
privileged sections of society continuing to bar capable men from other classes from advancement until war wouldforce a need to employ those most able, rather than the traditional upper classes, as leaders.
9
a play written by the Hungarian author Imre Madách. It was first published in 1861. The play is considered to beone of the major works of Hungarian literature and is one of the most often staged Hungarian plays today.
10
a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy. It is the administrative capital of the Province of Como.
11
a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantummechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922.

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