Building the atomic bomb Essay

This essay has a total of 1358 words and 7 pages.


Building the atomic bomb




The impact of the advances in physics between 1900 and 1938 could have never been
predicted at the time of their discovery. The discoveries being made would change not
only the world of physics, but also the world as a whole. Because developments were being
made in the fields of fission, atoms, and atomic energy, government officials now had to
take into consideration the possibility of atomic warfare when making related to
international policy. The first of the major world powers to realize the military use of
the discoveries in physics was Germany. Soon after, the United States and Britain would
begin organizing research teams in the field of fission and nuclear warfare. The fates of
these research projects were constantly in question. The decision by Germany, the United
States, and Britain to continue research would be influenced by many factors including the
progress of other countries’ research, each country’s confidence in their ability to
complete the atomic bomb, and each country’s confidence in the inability of other
countries to produce the atomic bomb.

The discovery of fission, in December of 19381, would begin the world’s quest to unleash
the power of the atom and formulate a way to utilize that power for atomic warfare. This
discovery, made in Germany, gave the Germans a head start on the extensive research still
to be done in order to produce an atomic bomb. This advantage would soon prove to be
short lived. While this discovery overwhelmed the physics world with amazement, it also
caused great concern among many physicists and government officials because of the
implications in atomic warfare it held. This fear would become the most basic reason for
the United States and Britain to pursue atomic research, particularly for military use.
Germany was unaware of not only the pressure they were exuding, in the form of fear, on
other countries, but also the research that was beginning out of this fear. Germany’s
ignorance of this research allowed the German research project to continue at the same
rate and escape feeling pressure from other countries2. Without pressure from other
countries Germany had a false sense of security, which allowed the urgent need to begin
research to be ignored.

For many years the best physicists and scientists studied and trained in Germany, because
of its unrivalled reputation as the best location for scientific education and training
available3. After completing their education many scientists chose to remain in Germany
doing research or teaching. Prior to 1933 this would have provided Germany with an
invaluable resource of information and ideas, but the increasing anti-Semitic attitude in
Germany forced many scientists to flee the country. Among the refugees escaping Hitler’s
anti-Semitism were some of the most crucial contributors to the development of the atomic
bomb, such as Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard4.

Leo Slizard fled from Germany on March 31, 19335, at which time he went to Britain where
he conceived his neuron chain reaction. Slizard continued his research at Oxford in
Britain until 1938 at which time he moved to New York City in anticipation and fear of the
outbreak of World War II6. Upon moving to New York Slizard and Eugene Wigner began work on
plans to avert attainment of an atomic bomb by Germany. In 1939 Slizard and Wigner
approached Einstein to help warn the US of the threat posed by Germany. Slizard drafted
Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressing their fear and knowledge
of the German Uranium project7. The letter to Roosevelt was powerful enough to convince
the US to organize their research on the atomic bomb.

While the research in the US was making constant progress, including Rudolf Peierl’s
calculation of the critical mass in Dec. 1940, and Alfred Nier’s successful separations of
natural uranium into U238 and U235 8, the Germans were facing a great deal of frustration.
In 1941 Heisenberg reported negative results from his first experiments using a reactor,
which caused him to conclude that heavy water must be used9. This premature conclusion
would affect the progress and fate of the Uranium project. The next set back came in
September of 1941 when the previously favored Clusius-Dickel isotope-separation method was
abandoned due it becoming thought of as unworkable because of corrosion from Uranium
Hexafluoride10. The head of the Army Weapons Research showed doubts about the Uranium
Project on Dec. 5, 1941 when he ordered a review of the project and indicated that soon
Germany would not be able to support the research11. When support was cut, the atomic
bomb was believed to be impossible. This, along with the predicted time need for the
project and the estimated funds needed, gave Germany encouragement to end the Uranium
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