Manhattan Project1 Essay

This essay has a total of 1771 words and 7 pages.

Manhattan Project1



The Manhattan Project
On the morning of August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber named Enola Gay flew over the industrial
city of Hiroshima, Japan and dropped the first atomic bomb ever. The city went up in
flames caused by the immense power equal to about 20,000 tons of TNT. The project was a
success. They were an unprecedented assemblage of civilian, and military scientific brain
power—brilliant, intense, and young, the people that helped develop the bomb. Unknowingly
they came to an isolated mountain setting, known as Los Alamos, New Mexico, to design and
build the bomb that would end World War 2, but begin serious controversies concerning its
sheer power and destruction. I became interested in this topic because of my interest in
science and history. It seemed an appropriate topic because I am presently studying World
War 2 in my Social Studies Class. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were always taught
to me with some opinion, and I always wanted to know the bomb itself and the unbiased
effects! that it had. This I-search was a great opportunity for me to actually fulfill my
interest. The Manhattan Project was the code name for the US effort during World War II to
produce the atomic bomb. It was appropriately named for the Manhattan Engineer District of
the US Army Corps of Engineers, because much of the early research was done in New York
City (Badash 238). Sparked by refugee physicists in the United States, the program was
slowly organized after nuclear fission was discovered by German scientists in 1938, and
many US scientists expressed the fear that Hitler would attempt to build a fission bomb.
Frustrated with the idea that Germany might produce an atomic bomb first, Leo Szilard and
other scientists asked Albert Einstein, a famous scientist during that time, to use his
influence and write a letter to president FDR, pleading for support to further research
the power of nuclear fission (Badash 237). His letters were a success, and President
Roosevelt established the Manhattan Project. Physicists from 1939 onward conducted much
research to find answers to such questions as how many neutrons were emitted in each
fission, which elements would not capture the neutrons but would moderate or reduce their
velocity , and whether only the lighter and scarcer isotope of uranium (U-235) fissioned
or the common isotope (U-238) could be used. They learned that each fission releases a few
neutrons. A chain reaction, therefore, was theoretically possible, if not too many
neutrons escaped from the mass or were captured by impurities. To create this chain
reaction and turn it into a usable weapon was the ultimate goal of the Manhattan Project.
In 1942 General Leslie Groves was chosen to lead the project, and he immediately purchased
a site at Oak Ridge, Tenn., for facilities to separate the necessary uranium-235 from the
much more common uranium-238. Uranium 235 was an optimal choice for the bomb because of
its unusually unstable composition. Thus, the race to separate the two began. During that
time, the work to perfect the firing mechanism and structure of the bomb was also swiftly
underway. General Groves’ initial task had been to select a scientific director for the
bomb project. His first two choices, Ernest O. Lawrence, director of the electromagnetic
separation project, and Arthur H. Compton, director of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory,
were not available. Groves had some doubts regarding the next best candidate, J. Robert
Oppenheimer (Wood 2). Finally, Groves gambled on Oppenheimer, a theoretical mathematician,
as director of the weapons laboratory, built on an isolated mesa (flat land area) at Los
Alamos, New Mexico. After much difficulty, an absorbent barrier suitable for separating
isotopes of uranium was developed and installed in the Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion plant.
Finally, in 1945, uranium-235 of bomb purity was shipped to Los Alamos, where it was
fashioned into a gun-type weapon. In a barrel, one piece of uranium was fired at another,
together forming a supercritical, explosive mass. To achieve chain-reaction fission, a
certain amount of fissile material, called critical mass, is necessary. The fissile
material used in the Hiroshima model was uranium 235. In the bomb, the uranium was divided
into two parts, both of which were below critical mass. The bomb was designed so that one
part would be slammed into the other by an explosive device to achieve critical mass
instantaneously (Badash 238). When critical mass is achieved, continuous fission (a chain
reaction) takes place in an extremely short period of time, and far more energy is
released than in the case of a gun-powder explo! sion (Badash 238). On December 2, 1942,
the first self-sustaining chain reaction with cadmium took place, overseen by Enrico
Fermi, in the University of Chicago squash fields (Asimov 783). Another type of atomic
bomb was also constructed using the synthetic element plutonium. Fermi built a reactor at
Chicago in late 1942, the prototype of five production reactors erected at Hanford, Wash.
These reactors manufactured plutonium by bombarding uranium-238 with neutrons. At Los
Alamos the plutonium was surrounded with high explosives to compress it into a super
dense, super critical mass far faster than could be done in a gun barrel. The result was
tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, and was the first explosion of an
atomic bomb code-named Trinity (Beyer 55). However, all was not that easy coming up to
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