Physics trivia

The story of the emergence of the atomic bomb

Nuclear bomb: an explosive weapon with high destructive power

The discovery of the neutron in 1932 completely changed the methods used to study the properties of the atomic nucleus. Ernest Rutherford, an English physicist who lived between 1871 and 1937, did numerous investigative research on the structure of the atom. Rutherford investigated the structure of the atom using alpha particles. In the 1930s, numerous discoveries revealed unexpected aspects of the nucleus of the atom. By bombarding uranium atoms with neutrons, scientists such as Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner proved that the nucleus of this atom, made up of 92 protons, is divided into smaller nuclei and also discovered that uranium can fission (nuclear fission process) the element barium and the element krypton, each with 56 and 36 protons in the nucleus respectively. With these discoveries, scientists realized that it was possible to create a chain reaction with the capacity to generate large amounts of energy and that, if it occurred in an uncontrolled way, in a fraction of a second the release of energy would be gigantic, thus causing an explosion of energy. high destructive power. After these discoveries a new weapon emerged: the nuclear bomb, whose destructive power is very high.

Many of the scientists who engaged in research on nuclear fission and fusion, including Einstein and Lise Meitner, took refuge in other countries due to Nazi persecution, but even so, they continued their research. At that time, the necessary knowledge for the construction of the nuclear bomb was already available. In the year 1941, the United States of America enters the Second World War after the bombing of Peal Harbor carried out by the Japanese. Europe was in chaos and Hitler had already invaded several countries. Through this surprise attack, the US began a top-secret operation in a laboratory located in New Mexico, to build an atomic bomb. Several scientists were invited, including Lise Meitner, but she declined.

In July 1945, the first tests for the detonation of the atomic bomb were carried out. Many who witnessed the tests knew that from that moment on, humanity would not be the same. That same year the Nazis surrendered, but the Japanese did not. In this way, US planes bombed the city of Tokyo with firebombs, killing thousands of people. In a tragic decision, President Harry Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb on the grounds that the land invasion would kill millions of American and Japanese lives. With the authorization for the attack, on August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb – nicknamed “Little Boy” – was dropped over the skies of Hiroshima, killing thousands of civilians and even then Japan did not surrender.

It was from this war and this event that science began to receive funds for research, many of them directly from the government. If, on the one hand, nuclear fission provided the development of the atomic bomb, on the other hand, it favored the development of controlled nuclear fission, which is used in nuclear reactors and in various applications in medicine.

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