# Impact of atomic bomb on science

1. Apr 8, 2008

### Jenanime4eva

Hi guys. I was wondering what are your thoughts on how the atomic bomb has made an impact in science?

2. Apr 8, 2008

### Schrodinger's Dog

I'm more interested in the impact it had on politics. But it was a natural development from E=mc^2 really, so sooner or later we were bound to harness the power to destroy our world. I think quantum mechanics in general owes a debt to it as it no doubt funded a lot of physicists research, directly and indirectly.

3. Apr 9, 2008

### Jenanime4eva

Schrodinger's Dog: Yeah I was thinking the atomic bomb was merely accelerating a process that was already ongoing instead of being THE turning point in twentieth century science (as so many books seem to claim).

Do you others out there have any opinions on how the atomic bomb has made an impact on science last century? I would love to hear them please.

4. Apr 9, 2008

### Jimmy Snyder

E = mc^2 rules all energy and matter, not just nuclear energy. The Bomb was not a result of knowing that equation, but of knowing the fissile properties of the uranium nucleus. The investigations into that matter were done by Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner.

5. Apr 9, 2008

### Integral

Staff Emeritus
The major impact on science was not the bomb itself, but the process required to develop the bomb. It was the first big dollar scientific R&D project when finished it left behind a huge infrastructure of labs and scientists. This is why it is the major scientific development of the 20th century. The development of the bomb was made possible by the work done on QM by many different scientists in the first 30yrs of the century.

Edit: An effort to make it sort of readable.

Last edited: Apr 9, 2008
6. Apr 9, 2008

### Schrodinger's Dog

Oh yeah I should of been more clear that that was the first step that got us thinking about the energy locked up in matter. So from an evolutionary point it was inevitable that if it held true we should be able to harness the energy of matter. Of course this idea had been around for nearly a century or so before Einstein formalised it. Newton tacitly suggested it himself.

See Hitler wasn't all bad, without him we may not have had such a profusion of great German/Austrian scientists and of course others in the US and UK. Just kidding, yes he was all bad.

Last edited: Apr 9, 2008
7. Apr 9, 2008

### Ivan Seeking

Staff Emeritus
The ability of science to produce things like atom bombs has created subcultures that fear or distrust science. There have been countless movies that play on this fear.

The entire TV series "The Outer Limits" that was released in the 90s was based on the notion that science cannot be trusted and that it will eventually destroy mankind.

Recently we saw protests regarding the use of the latest accelerator technologies for fear that they may destroy the planet.

Last edited: Apr 9, 2008
8. Apr 9, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

I agree with Integral's statements. There was much going on in the 1930's and 1940's and the bomb was simply a by-product of that. In addition to Hahn, Strassman and Meitner's work, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi was involved in nuclear systems.

The Manhattan project brought scientists, engineers and technicians together as never before - and necessity was/is the mother of invention, and R&D.

E. O. Lawrence upgraded his cyclotrons for enrichment of fissile materials, and as Integral pointed out, that produced a significant R&D infrastructure.

Fusion was also being investigated, and it was determined that a fissile bomb could produce temperatures hot enough to initiate fusion on a relatively large scale, and hence thermonuclear weapons were developed. Those were so large, that nuclear power rockets were developed, but before they matured, the nuclear warheads were made small enough that conventional chemical rockets would launch thermonuclear devices over intercontinental distances.

9. Apr 9, 2008

### Peter Hiatt

I think the computer will eventually be more correctly identified as the turning point of the 20th Century. For the bomb calculations, the "computers" were human.

10. Apr 9, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

That's not actually true, Peter. A great deal of progress in computer technology is owed to the Manhattan Project itself.

Last edited: Apr 9, 2008
11. Apr 10, 2008

### Violator

I think the biggest impact of the bomb was demonstrating to politicians that scienctific dominance could dramatically alter battlescapes. Prior to the bomb, being more advanced tended to mean you used the same weapons they just worked better (i.e. banded armor versus plate, steel blades versus copper or iron). The bomb was a war ender, and it was made possible by scientists. After that, not putting your money into research would be foolish. The bomb was also probably the ultimate demonstration of applied theory. It showed that even the most exotic ideas could have direct impact on "real life".

12. Apr 10, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

Certainly the power demonstrated by the atomic bomb caught the attention of the public and changed expectations and views about scientists and science. I think it was considered a gigantic leap. Harnessing the atom and unlimited power/energy became a goal - although quite unrealistic.

I think the public and many proponents of nuclear energy overestimated it's capability, or at least developed unrealistic expectations, which eventually hurt us in the 70's when significant problems in the industry became public.

13. Apr 10, 2008

### Integral

Staff Emeritus
That was a temporary measure, while waiting for the hardware to get up and running.

They had a program written and ready, but no working hardware. Each person in a auditorium was assigned a single line of code. The program was started by handing the first person a initial value, he did his calculation and handed the result to the next person (line) The program was executed manually, slow but it got them numbers.

The source of this is Richard Feyman. He has written several books of his experiences through those years, well worth reading.

14. Apr 11, 2008

### Jenanime4eva

Some good opinions here guys.

Do you think the atomic bomb acted as a catalyst for "big science" i.e. projects of a huge scale and funding, or do you reckon "big science" existed before the advent of the atomic bomb?

15. Apr 11, 2008

### Schrodinger's Dog

Yes big science existed before the bomb, but yes also it acted as a catalyst for a large amount of projects through huge scale and funding, both directly and indirectly.

16. Apr 11, 2008

### Peter Hiatt

Germany set a great example of big government spending in science causing great things to happen. Unfortunately for them, they had a ghoul for a leader.

17. Apr 11, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

Clearly big science existed before the "atomic bomb", which was based upon the results of many scientists who explored the nature of matter. Just look at the Nobel prizes in Chemistry and Physics prior to World War II. Perhaps the war changed priorities - and afterward - 'Big Science' just got bigger.

Without the war, perhaps national rivalries would have spurred growth of big science, but it's hard to say. We can't change history and explore alternatives. We can only guess/speculate about what might have been or what might be IF.

18. Apr 12, 2008

### Schrodinger's Dog

Yeah brain drain of leading Jewish(particularly Einstein) and non-German scientists, not smart.

19. Apr 13, 2008

### dst

It is quite clear that a Premier Romanov would take over Russia and attempt to launch a large scale assault on the USA - several years after Stalin's failed full-scale war, again on the USA.

Edit: But this only happens if it's Einstein who kills Hitler. We don't know about the other cases.

20. May 1, 2008

### mheslep

If big means large or lots of, as in money or people, and not just very novel , then 'big' science very much began with WWII and the a-bomb. This is especially true w/ regards to physics where the budgets were nickel and dime before the war. In the 1930's Cornell University's physics department claimed the world renown Hans Bethe and one of the strongest nuclear physics programs in the US, but still had budgets as low as $9000 which was obtained through groveling and begging. When Bethe came back after the war from Los Alamos, the budget was$2M and that was obtained by demand. And not everything military related fared so well; many previously large military production budgets were slashed post war. Not physics. WWII and the bomb completely changed the common view of science and scientists in the US.

Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?