Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rutherford - Forgotten Genius

A good discussion by Richard Reeves on Nobel Prize winner Scientist Rutherford. He makes a good point at the end that Americans have a strange view of Nuclear Energy. Many think that somehow Einstein, Oppenheimer, and other American scientists "invented" the atomic bomb. In this layman's view, Einstein thought up "E=Mc2", this lead to nuclear energy and in 1930's Einstein wrote a letter to FDR. This in turn results in the Manhattan project and the A-Bomb.

The fact is that Einstein had very little to do with nuclear energy. E=mc2, while a nice explanation was not an important discovery in the development of nuclear energy. Everyone knew that if you split the atom, massive amounts of energy would be released, and this was proved in practical experiments. So E=MC2 while a nice theory but wasn't really relevant.

The key milestones in the development of nuclear energy had little to do with either the USA or Einstein. The main players were:

-Madame Curie- Discovers uranium
-Rutherford - Maps the Atom
-Bohr - Refines Rutherford's theory of the Atom
-Chadwick - Discovers the Neutron
-Slizard - Patents the idea of nuclear energy and the "chain-reaction"
-Fermi - Creates First Nuclear Chain Reaction
-Hahn - Discovers Fission

In 1939 Slizard drafted a letter to FDR warning of the Nazi's developing an A-bomb. He discusses this with Einstein who agrees to sign the letter. As a result of the letter, FDR sets up a committee to investigate nuclear energy. In the Spring of 1941 the British provide the USA with the copy of the Chadwick report, which concludes that an A-bomb is inevitable and only needs more time and effort. In November 1941, Vannevar Bush recommends to FDR that we research and develop an A-bomb. In August 1942, General Grove is appointed head of the Manhattan project.

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