Sunday, May 8, 2011

Atomic Week

Welcome to Atomic Week where we will investigate the intriguing case of the development of the atomic bomb. Naturally, we must start such a week with Albert Einstein. Einstein was not directly involved in the Manhattan Project, which developed the bomb, but his theoretical work helped to lay the groundwork for the development of the bomb. 

In Einstein's work on his theory of relativity, he came up with the famous relationship of:

E = mc²

E is energy, m is the mass, and c is the speed of light. The equation shows that the total energy in any given object is the mass of the object multiplied by the speed of light squared. Light is very fast, so the speed of light is a very large number. This means the total energy in even a relatively small object is very large. 

In fact, something as small as a grapefruit, if all the energy were released, would create an explosion that could level a city.

Enrico Fermi was one of the first to make this connection. He had successfully established sustained nuclear chain reactions, in which mass was being converted to energy. He speculated that such a reaction could be used to create incredible amounts of energy, or even bombs.

With World War II underway, Einstein realized that the technology existed to create a super weapon in which mass of radioactive material was converted to energy, creating an enormous explosion. He believed that Germany might be working on a super weapon, and that the US could be caught flat footed. Concerned about the matter, he wrote President Roosevelt the following letter. This letter then led to the development of the Manhattan Project to create the atom bomb.


  1. It's going to be an interesting week. I grew up in southern Nevada, and witnessed a few tests from afar.

  2. I' m looking forward to your ATomic Week! Dad was a pilot in the USAF for 22 years and flew VIP's to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Once in a while it was Wernher von Braun. He says that's the most famous person he flew.

  3. I guess we should thank our lucky stars that we had better people and more money than Germany did. What a different world it would be today if Germany had developed the A-bomb first.


  4. PJM, as you already know, my father was closely involved with the nucleasr weapons and power reactors that were a product of the letter you showed us. Dad was always more interested in the peacful uses of the atom, but realized that we could not have one without the other.

    In the late fourties and through the fifties he commanded a number of the joint military task forces that conducted a number of the test detonations in the Marshall Islands. He also worked for the Atomic Energy Commission as Deputy Durector after retiring from the Air Force. There he worked to get the country into nuclear energy.

    I don't bring this up to try to impress anyone; he was a source of tremendous pride for all of us. His work was not flashy nor did he seek attention. He did do a tremendous favor for his country in an area that still scares people every time it is mentioned. Try it at your next party and see what people think about nuclear energy (especially after the earthquakes in Japan)

    All this from a young man from Eldorado, Texas.

  5. RTD, amen to that. I just finished reading Albert Speer's memoirs, and if he is to be believed, we also have to thank a whole bunch of nonfunctional ego maniacs who created a disfunctional govt system in Germany at that time.

  6. I have a good friend that was a missile tech on a nuclear sub some 20 yrs. ago. He and his family are in good health. I've never heard of any USN guys coming down with a reactor related malady. This said I look forward to the day when the US provide 100% of it's own energy be it nuclear, solar, matter-anti-matter or whatever.Point of conversation... Adm. Hyman Rickover was some sort of relative on my Dad's side.


  7. Lovin' the Albert Einstein picture - my teacher is obsessed with him... I just don't want to admit that I have a slight obsession with his hair...


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