Prof. Angela Burton
September 25, 2004
History of the Atom Bomb
The atom bomb is one of historys greatest and most feared accomplishments. The sheer power and strength of the weapon is something that is awe-inspiring, yet something to strike fear into the hearts of everyone who sees one explode. This amazing feat of human society came after many long years of difficult testing and retesting different theories. The invention of the atom or hydrogen bomb, as it is known, is one of the most momentous inventions that human kind has seen thus far in its history.
It would be logical to assume that the discovery of fission preceded the invention of the atomic bomb. It would be normal also to expect that no single individual could really claim to be “the inventor”, since the possibility sprang naturally from a physical process, and required the efforts of many thousands to bring it into existence. But in this case, this assumption is not correct. In the case of the atomic bomb there is clearly one man who is the originator of the idea. He was also the instigator of the project that led ultimately to the successful construction of the atomic bomb, and was a principal investigator in the early R&D both before and after the founding of the atomic bomb project – making a number of the key discoveries himself. By any normal standard this man is the inventor of the atomic bomb.Order now
This man is Leo Szilard. On September 12, 1932, within seven months of the discovery of the neutron, and more than six years before the discovery of fission, Leo Szilard conceived of the possibility of a controlled release of atomic power through a multiplying neutron chain reaction, and also realized that if such a reaction could be found, then a bomb could be built using it. On July 4, 1934 Leo Szilard filed a patent application for the atomic bomb. In his application, Szilard described not only the basic concept of neutron chain reactions and the key concept of the critical mass. The patent was awarded to him – making Leo Szilard the legally recognized inventor of the atomic bomb. (Sublet)
With the invention, or rather the thought of creation, for an atom bomb before fission was discovered sparked many peoples attention.
A rush for the discovery of fission and other topics associated with it created many different experiments that led towards other discoveries like the neutron, found by James Chadwick in1932, and the effects of bombardment of particles upon it. One of the key figures in this quest for atomic knowledge was Enrico Fermi, who was a leader in the research of bombarding uranium with neutrons. Accoring to Sublet :Fermi discovered the extremely important principle of neutron behavior called “moderation” (enhanced capture of low energy neutrons) on October 22, 1934.
The following years yielded many different and exciting events that helped progress the process of creating an atomic bomb. Some of the important dates are: January 13, 1939 – Otto Frisch observed fission directly in an ionization chamber. He and William Arnold coin the term “fission”.
January 26, 1939 – Niels Bohr publicly announces the discovery of fission at George Washington University in Washington, DC. This was the first announcement of fission in the United States. January 29, 1939 – Robert Oppenheimer realizes that excess neutrons must be emitted, and that it might be possible to build a bomb. February 5, 1939 – Niels Bohr gained a crucial insight into the principles of fission uranium subcategories must have different fission properties, that some could be broken apart by fast neutrons but not slow ones, others the opposite in uranium. By July 1941 – the committee completed its final report, describing atomic bombs and project proposals for building them in some technical detail. On September 3, 1941, with Winston Churchills endorsement, the British Chiefs of Staff agree to begin development of an atomic bomb.
When December 18 came around, after months of political struggle and the reluctant entry of the United States into the war the U.S. begins to investigate atomic weapons. This top secret project became known as S-1, or as the public came to know it, .