Scientific Methods

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

TOTAL DESTRUCTION 1939 - 1945...

The most influential scientists of the last century most certainly include those responsible for the invention of the atomic bomb through the Manhattan project between 1939 – 1945.

Robert Oppenheimer, David Bohm (appropriate name!) Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Otto Frisch, Rudolph Peierls, Felix Bloch, Niels Bohr, Emilio Serge, James Franck, Enrico Fermi, Klaus Fuchs, and Edward Teller, created a complete paradigm shift in the way the world perceived warfare and weaponry. The shear magnitude of potential force exhibited by nuclear weapons was enough to fuel the cold war, a war fought out of fear of total annihilation.

It all started back in World war two, in fact just prior to the war, when Germany had discovered nuclear fission in 1938, a major breakthrough which Nazi scientists knew could be used to create a weapon to service the desires of Adolf Hitler’s regime of world domination. Critical to the development of a nuclear weapon, two rare materials, heavy water and uranium, found only in Norway and Czechoslovakia, were in the possession of Nazi scientists after both countries fell under the regime’s control. Some historians argue that it was in fact this success which sparked Adolf Hitler’s confidence and arrogance. This discovery affectively placed the Germans two years ahead of the rest of the world in developing nuclear energy.

Interestingly, Hitler expelled some of the top nuclear physicists from Germany, who later became critical in the development of the first atomic bomb in America, which ultimately ended the war after the dropping of “Little boy” and “Fat man” on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. There was no place for Jewish nuclear physicists in Nazi-ruled Germany. If indeed Hitler had maintained these scientists, he may well have succeeded in world domination through the threat of nuclear annihilation.

In August 1939, Leo Slizard, the inventor of the nuclear fission reactor in 1955, Eugene Wigner, and Edward Teller, persuaded Albert Einstein to sign a letter that was drafted for President Roosevelt. The letter from Einstein led to the creation of the Manhattan Engineering District, known also as “the Manhattan Project.” The Manhattan Project was a programme designed to produce the first nuclear weapon before Nazi Germany. President Roosevelt authorised the project a day before the bombing of Pearl harbour.

During the period from 1939 – 1945, over $2 billion was spent on the development of the first atomic bomb, code named “The Gadget” through the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos in New Mexico. On 16 July 1945 at 05:29:45, “The Gadget” was detonated, even as some of its inventors feared that it might set fire to the Earth’s atmosphere. The explosion produced an intensely bright white light that gradually became an orange colour as the massive fireball shot skywards at 360ft per second. A characteristic mushroom cloud of radioactive vapour became visible at 30 000ft, and at the ground at the site of the explosion, the soil had turned into radioactive glass from the heat of the reaction.

After the witnessing of the explosion of “The Gadget,” the scientists signed petitions against using the bomb in warfare, though, only a few weeks later, on 6 August 1945, “Little boy” was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and, on 9 August, “Fat man” was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered the following day.

Nuclear weapons are a sick reminder of our destructive capabilities, with the potential to eliminate life as we know it in an instant. In the wrong hands entire cities can be eliminated. What’s more is the thought that the power to unleash such devastation is held by only a few powerful people around the world, people who were created imperfect and who should never be given the opportunity to play God…

David Vaughan
Senior aquarist, Quarantine
Two Oceans Aquarium
Cape Town, South Africa