#AtoZChallenge: April 24, 2013 ~ Uranium

Trinity You are the most fatal chemical element found on earth, only preceded by plutonium, the byproduct (“waste”) of nuclear reactors.  In nature you are mostly the stable isotope Uranium-238, but your brother, Uranium-235, is much sought after by the sorcerers of nuclear fission since it “only” requires low-energy neutrons to trigger the chain reaction.

Nuclear Fission was discovered in 1938, on the threshold of WWII, by German scientists.  The discovery was one of the outcomes of a series of  findings, both experimental (observations and measurements of interactions of sub-atomic particles) and theoretical (Quantum Mechanics), in nuclear physics, particularly the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick in 1932.  Artificial fission, as opposed to natural radioactive decay, and as obtained in nuclear reactors, or in nuclear explosives (atomic bombs), is the result of the bombardment of heavy elements by neutrons, which “transmute” the target element releasing enormous energy (E=mc2).  The physics of fission is relatively “simple” and well understood by physicists, but the control and engineering of its applications far more complicated.  Following the discovery of fission, fear that Nazi Germany could develop an atomic bomb prompted the Allies (USA, Canada and Britain) to launch their own program: the Manhattan project, led by Major General Leslie Groves, scientific Director J. Robert Oppenheimer (“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”).  Finally bombs were built, tested, and dropped on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the very end of the WWII.

Later research led to the thermonuclear bomb (the “H” bomb), which is an application of nuclear fission and fusion of light elements (such as deuterium), triggered by a plutonium bomb.

In 1983, thirty years after the development of the extension of Quantum Mechanics named  Quantum Electrodynamics, Richard Feynman declared:

We physicists are always checking to see if there is something the matter with the theory.  That’s the game, because if there is something the matter, it’s interesting!  But so far, we have found nothing wrong with the theory of quantum electrodynamics.  It is, therefore, I would say. The jewel of our physics – our proudest possession.”

Oak Ridge

Shift change at the Y-12 uranium enrichment facility at Oak Ridge. By May 1945, 82,000 people were employed at the Clinton Engineer Works.

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer





#FiveSentenceFiction: Ending

“Before we take to sea we walk on land,

Before we create we must understand.” – Joseph Louis Lagrange

Lagrangian Operator

Soon he would address the supreme Council, under the dome made famous by successive inaugurations of its members, and many assemblies: the United Planets had a sense of decorum.

His speech, however, would have nothing to do directly with the politics of Sol and of the UP: it was all about higher physics and astronomy, the discovery that would transform mankind’s view of itself, and of the Universe.

The resources that had allowed him to get the ultimate results were awesome in their magnitude: there was no historical comparison to the multiple arrays of supercomputers on three planets, Earth, Mars and Europa, joining forces to iterate and solve the Lagrangian equations up to third order, those enigma expressed in dense matrices of probability.

Of course he had payed the price: his youth, years of lobbying the Council, whose approval was needed to engage the massive funds necessary for his research, the building of the elite team of mathematicians and scientists across several worlds, the price of leadership.

Now, as he was readying to present the results to the Council, he thought of that lonely figure of J. Robert Oppenheimer, in the New Mexico desert, at the end of the Manhattan project, all those centuries ago in the dying years of the third civil war: only this time, he would deliver the ultimate answer – there was no ending, the Universe would last for ever, and ever, and ever, and he had the proof.