North Korea’s Hydrogen Adventure and The Atomic Age: A Look Back at History

By A. G. Moore

nagasaki blast scaled for site
Atomic Cloud Rising Over Nagasaki, August 9, 1945 Photo credit: Hiromichi Matsuda (松田 弘道) August 9, 1945

It was June, 1942.  The world was at war.  In Europe, the war had begun in 1939; in the US active engagement had not begun until 1941.  Fighting was fierce and the outcome uncertain. After much prodding by scientists, including Albert Einstein, US President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to approve development of an atomic bomb. Thus commenced The Manhattan Project.

A debate about the location of the project ensued.  It was eventually decided that physical construction of the bomb would take place in a remote location–Los Alamos, New Mexico. This was to be a top-secret effort, joined by scientists from several nations.

Work proceeded feverishly.  The race was on, participants believed, to beat the enemy in the development of a catastrophic weapon.  They were convinced that whoever got the weapon first would likely win the war. When researchers thought they finally had a workable bomb, many wondered if they should test it. Would the world blow up? This was a question actually asked by one of the researchers, Edward Teller.

On July 16, 1945 the first atomic bomb was detonated in Los Alamos. Though a few scientists thought the device might not work at all, Enrico Fermi, a lead scientist, took bets on whether or not the explosion would ignite the atmosphere. He speculated that if this happened it was possible that not only New Mexico would be incinerated, but also that the world would be destroyed. While some colleagues thought Fermi was jesting, it was seriously considered that the bomb could turn the whole planet into a bomb.

Nonetheless, scientists proceeded with the detonation.  As it turned out, they did have a workable bomb. The results of their labor–the first atomic bomb in history–was given to politicians. At this point, WWII in Europe was over.  Germany had surrendered in May of ’42.  Germany’s defeat allowed the US and its allies to focus energies on the remaining opponent, Japan.
Throughout the war there had been two fronts, one in Europe, against Germany and the other in the Pacific, against Japan. Japan was a tenacious and fierce opponent. As German forces withdrew, Japan fought on and showed no intention of bowing before an invading army.

Faced with a grueling and bloody ground assault, the US decided to choose a more efficient road to victory over Japan.  On August 6, 1945 the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.  Two days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Some observers estimate the number of deaths from the Hiroshima blast to have been about 135,000 and from the Nagasaki blast to have been about 75,000.  Neither of these figures include long-term exposures to the blast.

The Japanese quickly surrendered.  Faced with what appeared to be the obliteration of their nation, they agreed to almost every demand made of them.   WWII came to an abrupt end and the world entered a new era: the Atomic Age.

˜

Much of the above essay was adapted from the book, What is Radioactivity? The Basics, which is a Rhythm Prism publication.

Advertisements

War’s Therapeutic History

 

Hospital_at_Scutari_reduced2a
Florence Nightingale tending the sick and wounded during the Crimean War. Lithograph E. Walker; Day & Son. Located in the Library of Congress. Copyright expired.

By A. G. Moore

It is ironic that throughout history, war has been an effective laboratory for creating advances in medicine. Human beings are the raw material of war. Injured humans, sick humans, cannot carry out the mission of their masters. They cannot win victories if they perish from wounds, or struggle with illness. It is in the interest of nations and the leaders of nations to protect soldiers. And thus, history shows, war has been the environment in which medical innovation and discovery has often occurred.

Of course, there have been idealists who labored, in war and peace, to improve medical care. No slight is here intended to these heroes. I am in awe of often unacknowledged and anonymous benefactors who give their lives to save the lives of others. But even in these instances, it has often been the case  that the work of the idealist is sponsored and supported by a less altruistic actor.

For example, Florence Nightingale traveled to the Crimea in the midst of a terrible war because she wanted to save lives. No one has ever been able to impugn the motives of this great nurse and medical innovator. Her actions saved not only British soldiers but countless soldiers of all nationalities who fought in successive wars.

As is typical of medical innovation prompted by warfare, Florence Nightingale’s insight and reforms also extended to civilian populations. She began a revolution in sanitation and nursing that has benefited every generation, civilian and military, across the world.

Not only did Florence Nightingale improve nursing and hospital practices, she also inspired a transformation in battlefield ethics. Because of her example and advice, the concept of neutrality for professional medical personnel evolved as a modern concept in warfare. The Geneva Conventions, which cemented this concept in international law, were a legacy of Florence Nightingale’s influence.

However, without the Crimean War, and without the English Crown’s need for healthy soldiers to carry on in battle, Florence Nightingale might never have gone to the Crimea. The English Crown was in crisis because of the appalling number of deaths suffered by its soldiers in the Crimea. This crisis threatened to deny the English a victory in the Crimean War.

Florence Nightingale became an angel to suffering soldiers in the Crimea and a savior to the English war effort. She became a popular figure to families in Britain whose loved ones were saved and she became a national hero because of her contribution to the war effort. Queen Victoria personally awarded Florence a unique medal, The Nightingale Jewel, in commemoration of her extraordinary service.

Medical innovation in wartime did not not begin or end with Florence Nightingale. In the ancient world, Greek, Egyptian and Indian doctors traveled to battlefields to treat the wounded. Improved surgical techniques were the result.

In more modern times, Jonas Salk worked on an influenza vaccine at the behest of the US government during WWII. It was the successful development of a flu vaccine that helped Salk to understand the direction to take in his research on a polio vaccine.

The carnage of war throughout history has been a prompt for development of therapeutic medicine. This is an opportunistic result: the attention and energies of great powers focus on medical care at these critical junctures because of battlefield imperatives. A true advance would be for state leaders to see the urgency of focusing on medical care in peacetime, when the needs of civilian populations are front and center. This would represent not only a revolution in medical science but also a essential evolution in the human condition.

Marie Curie: A Life Illuminated by Intelligence, Determination and Courage

Marie_Curie-Laboratory before 1937 author unknown
A picture of Marie Curie’s laboratory where she did much of her work on radium.

When we read about famous historical figures their accomplishments seem obvious, their acclaim assured. Closer examination often reveals a different story. Marie Curie, for example, almost didn’t get her first Nobel Prize. Even after winning the prize, she and her husband struggled to find appropriate laboratory space in which to conduct their experiments. And, though Marie Curie was the first woman to hold a professorship at the Sorbonne, she was only given that position after her husband’s became vacant because of his death.

Most modern observers marvel at Marie Curie’s intelligence and insight. A review of the obstacles she overcame suggest that perhaps her most influential traits might have been determination and courage. Marie had faith in her own abilities, but stronger than that was a conviction that her work was important.

Albert Einstein once described Marie Curie as someone who was totally indifferent to fame. She was a scientist. She did hard, grinding labor. She extracted radium and polonium from pitchblende; the yield of this extraction was in minute quantities. The exquisitely slow pace of the process did not deter Marie. She endured physical consequences of her effort–radiation burns and fatigue–without complaint.

When World War I broke out, Marie Curie used her scientific knowledge to save lives. She designed portable x-ray units and traveled to the front so she could offer her services to wounded soldiers. Marie Curie did this as she did everything else in her life, with courage, intelligence and a lack of regard for herself.

As we read about Marie Curie, and other accomplished figures in history, we marvel at what they achieved. Often, however, the better part of their story may be the road they traveled to realize their achievements. The strength of character displayed in some cases–certainly in Marie Curie’s case–is certainly as noteworthy as the honors earned.

********************************************************

Two books issued by Rhythm Prism are dedicated to Marie Curie’s life. One, Marie Curie: Radium, Polonium, is designed for a general audience and the other, Marie Curie: Science Pioneer,  addresses the interests of children.  Material in both books overlaps, although specialized information about Polonium and Radium are contained in Marie Curie: Radium, Polonium.

Marie and Pierre Curie discovered two elements on the periodic table, radium and polonium. One of the difficulties they had in working with polonium was the fact that it kept “disappearing”.  What they did not understand at the time was that radioactive elements decay at a regular rate, called its half life.  Below is a chart (which appears in the Rhythm Prism book Marie Curie: Radium, Polonium) that shows the process of thorium decay.  The chart was the work of Ernest Rutherford, who was himself a Nobel Laureate.

thorium chart

Marie Curie: Radium, Polonium and Marie Curie: Pioneer in Science are written in very basic language.  If you’re interested in gaining a rudimentary understanding of radioactivity and learning about Marie Curie, both books will serve that purpose.

General Interest Book

marie and atom 5 cover smash site

Children’s Book (with study guide)

BeFunky_Marie for site

 Another book that introduces more information about radioactivity is the Rhythm Prism publication, What Is Radioactivity? The Basics.  This book is offered in  6 by 9 and  8 1/2 by 11 workbook version. Reading level is adult or mature student.

what is radioactivity front  cover 6 by 9 print site