Development Of The Atom Bomb Essay, Research Paper
Development of:The Atom Bomb “In the 1930s, some scientists theorized that bombarding an atom’s nucleus with a neutron from another atom would cause the first atom to split in two. The splitting atom would release another neutron, which would then strike a neighboring atom, causing it to split, and so on. It was thought that each splitting atom would release a tiny spark of energy. In a nuclear chain reaction, trillions of atoms would split in less than a millionth of a second, thereby giving forth an awesome burst of power. This process of deriving energy through a chain reaction is called nuclear fission.” (Killingray 5). One of the leading scientists interested in nuclear fission was Leo Szilard. The gifted physicist was born in Hungary and educated at German universities. While visiting London in 1933, Szilard was struck with a monumental idea: “What if he could find an element that would emit two neutrons each time it was bombarded by one neutron? He later wrote, “Such an element could surly sustain a nuclear chain reaction.” ” (Stein 8). While Szilard worked to advance his idea, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party took over Germany. Under Hitler’s control, Germany started building tanks, military airplanes, and bombs. At the time, German scientists led the world in nuclear physics. Szilard feared that the Nazis could develop an atomic bomb and become powerful enough to rule the world. Sensing that war would break out in Europe, Szilard moved to the United States in 1938. Shortly after he moved, German scientists shocked the world by announcing that they had split uranium atoms by bombarding them with neutrons. For the first time in history, the atom had been smashed through man-made means. One day in July 1939, Szilard and Edward Teller, another Hungarian born physicist who studied in Germany, went to the home of Albert Einstein. They told Einstein that they believed Germany would soon be able to make an atom bomb. Szilard and Teller felt that that a scientist as famous as Einstein could get the attention of the United States government. Einstein immediately wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, warning him of this new found threat. His letter did not reach the president for two months. Finally in October 1939 Roosevelt read the letter. The president granted Szilard and Teller a small amount of money, to begin experiments in nuclear fission. The two scientists enlisted the aid of Italian born physicist Enrico Fermi, winner of the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics. “Since much of America’s early nuclear research had been conducted at New York’s Columbia University, the federal government assigned the Manhattan District of the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the initial research and production facilities for the project. Hence, the “Manhattan Project” became the code name for the atomic-bomb development program. But the project also encompassed research work being carried out at the University of California at Berkley and the University of Chicago.” (Jones 40). By 1942, the Manhattan Project moved its headquarters to Chicago. They set up a laboratory under the bleachers of a stadium once used by the University of Chicago’s football team. On December 2, 1942 the Manhattan Project scientists assembled, to attempt the world’s first controlled nuclear chain reaction. Under the football stands, technicians had built a nuclear reactor. The outside of the structure consisted of forty-five thousand graphite bricks. Graphite, has the property to deflect speeding neutrons. Inside the reactor were nineteen thousand balls of uranium. The reaction was controlled by neutron absorbing rods that were inserted in holes in the huge graphite “house”. Fermi was in charge of this vitally important and potentially dangerous test. “With a nod, Fermi ordered a technician to slowly pull out one of the rods, thereby allowing the reaction to begin.” (Stein 15). They had with them a special machine that counted neutron bombardments. The more the rod was pulled out the faster and louder the machine got. Once it was announced that the “pile” had gone critical, the rod was quickly pushed back in before the reactor blew up. The reaction proved that a nuclear bomb could be made. The success at Chicago prompted President Roosevelt to give top priority to the creation of an atomic bomb. The focus of the Manhattan Project shifted from bomb research to bomb production. More than $2 billion was finally spent on the effort. The Manhattan Project team employed the country’s brightest mathematicians and its most highly trained technical people. This included twelve Nobel Prize winners. The Manhattan Project was the biggest scientific undertaking in American history. Uranium had to be processed. Giant machinery was designed and built on a piece by piece basis. Work on the project was conducted in thirty-seven installations spread over thirteen different states. Two new towns, Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, were created just to produce the material that would fuel the bomb. The actual design and construction of the bomb took place in another new town, Los Alamos, New Mexico. An entire town, complete with houses, stores, schools, etc., was constructed to accommodate the scientists and their families. In 1942, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was named the head of Project Y, the group that would design the actual bomb. On July 16, 1945, they were ready to test bomb. In the New Mexico desert near the town of Alamogordo, a hundred foot tall steel tower had been constructed. Resting on top of the tower was the world’s first atomic bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man”. At five in the morning the bomb was detonated. The scientists watched from a concrete bunker ten thousand yards away. It was a success. The bomb exploded with the force of twenty thousand tons of TNT. What shortly followed was the construction of the “Little Boy”, the bomb carried by the Enola Gay.
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