August 2, 2014

75 years ago today: Albert Einstein wrote the letter to FDR that led to the Manhattan Project.

Einstein signed the letter by that was written by Leó Szilárd:
The Einstein–Szilárd letter resulted in the establishment of research into nuclear fission by the U.S. government and ultimately to the creation of the Manhattan Project; FDR gave the letter to an aide, General Edwin M. "Pa" Watson with the instruction: "Pa, this requires action!"...
Other interesting things about Szilárd:
During the 1926-1930 period, he worked with Einstein to develop a refrigerator, notable because it had no moving parts....

In 1932, Szilárd read the science fiction novel The World Set Free by H. G. Wells, a book which he said made a great impression on him....


In 1960, Szilárd was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He underwent cobalt therapy at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital using a cobalt 60 treatment regimen that he designed himself. He was familiar with the properties of this isotope from his work on the cobalt bomb. A second round of treatment with an increased dose followed in 1962. The doctors tried to tell him that the increased radiation dose would kill him, but he said it wouldn't, and that anyway he would die without it. The higher dose did its job and his cancer never returned. This treatment became standard for many cancers and is still used.

31 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

"The doctors tried to tell him that the increased radiation dose would kill him, but he said it wouldn't, and that anyway he would die without it. The higher dose did its job and his cancer never returned. This treatment became standard for many cancers and is still used."

Go, Man, GO!

Inspiring,...

Anonymous said...

And just a couple years after the successful cancer treatment, he had a heart attack and died.

Peter

Anonymous said...

It is through the work of these two men that the Scarlett Johansson Sexbot will finally be realized. Thank you, Real Science.

Phil 314 said...

Nuclear physicist, heal thyself.

rhhardin said...

American Technology Day is coming up August 5th.

rhhardin said...

The Lizard

The Time to Tickle a Lizard,
Is Before, or Right After, a Blizzard.
Now the place to begin
Is just under his Chin,—
And here’s more Advice:
Don’t Poke more than Twice
At an Intimate Place like his Gizzard.

traditionalguy said...

What if Hitler had hired the Jews instead of robbing, expelling and killing Jews?

Nuclear physics had been studying atom splitting for 30 years, but Szilard suddenly envisioned a way to use a chain reaction that could make an explosive device, and he told his friends.

Four weeks later all desire for peace in Nevile Chamberlain's time was forgotten by every government on earth as they hurried into stopping the others to beat them in a wild race to build the first chain reaction fission bomb ...even if first only by a week.

Four months later, by early January 1942 TVA had started building the Fontana dam which it finished in 22 months to power the Oak Ridge U-235 site. And The Grand Coulee dam, which had been under construction for 8 years, suddenly got finished in 1942 to power a Hanford plutonium site.

No one knew at first which of the two ways would be the quickest way, and speed to be the first was the greatest needed.

The first joint decision FDR and Churchill made was they had to beat Germany first. Then clean up Japan later.

John henry said...

I had not realized Eninstein invented a refrigerator.

Looking at the Wikipedia page, it looks to me much like the Servel refrigerator which was already in commercial production in the US. Licensed from Electrolux.

Wikipedia says it is different but I guess I would have to look at the two patents (Servel's and Einstein/Szilard's) to see what it is.

Servel cycle refrigerators are still made today and often used for camping and RVs.

And no moving parts? How would you get stuff into the refrigerator? Doesn't the door have to open?

John Henry

lemondog said...

Video: Einstein: Regret

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

What's perhaps most interesting in it all is the remarkably disproportionate representation of Hungarians amongst the early nuclear physicists.

In addition to Szilard there were Teller, Wigner, Balazs, Kurti, Berenyi, Bay, Goldstein, Krausz, and a few more I cannot remember just now. That's an awful lot to come out of one country with a population similar to that of North Carolina.

David said...

Good luck for him that they did not need approval from the FDA and clearance from the lawyers when he had that treatment.

Anonymous said...

Einstein didn't write it, as you note in the first line. Szilard wrote it. He got Einstein to sign, because he knew Einstein was a Big Name -- presumably why you also gave the post the title you did.

Doesn't make it accurate, though.

Rusty said...

You mean FDR committed 1/3 of our economy to build WMDs on just the word of one man?

William said...

I think the jury's still out on the atom bomb. I suppose the entire world won't end in a nuclear holocaust as I feared at one time. However, the chances of North Korea nuking Japan out of spite or of Pakistan nuking India to celebrate the end of Ramadan lie within the realm of possibility. Weapons, once invented, have a tendency to be used......The atom bomb bought a swift end to WWII and saved a lot of lives, Japanese as well as American. Still I don't think we have reached the final tally. The atom bomb may yet turn out to be the worst idea in the history of civilization.

Krumhorn said...

Szilárd was obviously immensely brilliant, but he was afflicted with the same pointy-headed librul disease that is widely found in the faculty lounges of the colleges of arts and sciences around our magnificent country (no offense is intended to be directed toward our esteemed hostess). He prepared a petition signed by 69 other eggheads urging President Truman to refrain from using the nuclear weapon and, instead, give the Japanese a demonstration of the bomb along with the terms of surrender.

This, while US Marines were dying by the many thousands upon every beach landing in the Pacific.

Truman gave them a demonstration alright at Hiroshima. They were apparently unimpressed so the demonstration was repeated at Nagasaki three days later which produced the desired result saving the lives of millions more.

In a case of supreme irony, one of the signers to the petition was Mary Burke, identified as a research assistant, and the looselugnut libruls at the Wiki have incorrectly included a hyperlink to the Wisconsin leftie running against Scott Walker.

One good Quisling deserves another, I suppose. Or is it birds-of-a-feather? I can't decide.

-Krumhorn

Zach said...

Electrolux licensed the Einstein/Szilard refrigerator, so the chain of origin might go the other way.

The "no moving parts" idea refers to moving parts in the cooling unit. Early refrigerators used noxious gases, and there were stories about people being killed when their refrigerators sprung a leak. No moving parts = easier to seal.

Hagar said...

A comment of mine went missing or got blocked for some unknown reason this morning.

Anyway, the biography of Szilard that I read said the refrigerator he and Einstein patented was a commercial failure because it was hideously noisy. The coolant in it does move and screams like a banshee when it passes through a venturi nozzle. However, the patent is now very useful for cooling instrumentation on spacecraft, where noise is not a problem.

Leo Szilard was the first to think of how a nuclear fission bomb might work; according to him in 1933(?) after he had read an article where Rutherford was quoted as saying it was all stuff and nonsense and scientifically impossible, so, being Leo Szilard, of course his mind immediately started working on how a nuclear chain reaction could work.
However, in 1933 they did not know that much about the internal structure of the elements, so it remained just an idea until Otto Hahn kind of incidentally split some atoms in Berlin in 1938, Lise Meitner figured out what had happened for them, and the word got to Niels Bohr.
And so the fat was in the fire; all the particle physicists then knew a bomb was possible - it was just a question of working out the details, engineering, and industrial production.

Zach said...

Even more amazing than the number of Hungarians is how many of them were Jewish (about 5% of the population).

traditionalguy said...

As mad as FDR made the conservatives with NRA and other collectivist ideas , he was one hell of a good wartime Commander in Chief. And he kicked Wallace the Socialist off of the VP replacing him with Truman as our certain next President in 1944's reelection.

Szilard May have feared the power of the fission Device, but he did his job in 1939 when it counted. And FDR did the rest. Otherwise we would be on year 75 with another 925 left in the Thousand Year Reich run by dull Nordics who practice dull occult witchcraft.




Jupiter said...

"Four weeks later all desire for peace in Nevile Chamberlain's time was forgotten by every government on earth as they hurried into stopping the others to beat them in a wild race to build the first chain reaction fission bomb ...even if first only by a week."

"And so the fat was in the fire; all the particle physicists then knew a bomb was possible - it was just a question of working out the details, engineering, and industrial production."

I don't know where you guys get this stuff. Heisenberg was put in charge of the German atomic bomb project, and decided that it was not feasible, reportedly due to a trivial arithmetic error that indicated many tons of enriched uranium would be required. It never went beyond theoretical speculation. The British worked with the Americans. No other country made any serious effort to build a bomb, until Soviet spies (possibly including Oppenheimer) reported on the American project. The notion that everyone was trying to build one, or even that everyone thought it possible, is flatly wrong.

Jupiter said...

"Szilard May have feared the power of the fission Device, but he did his job in 1939 when it counted. And FDR did the rest. Otherwise we would be on year 75 with another 925 left in the Thousand Year Reich run by dull Nordics who practice dull occult witchcraft."

By the time the first atomic bomb was ready for testing, July 1945, Germany had already surrendered.

Hagar said...

How does Jupiter know what was, or was not, in Heisenberg's mind, when this was something his co-workers, best friends, and family puzzled over and argued about to the end of their days?

And the Soviets were working on it, though small scale; it did not become a priority until the Americans exploded their first one.

Even the Japanese had a lone scientist doing experiments in that line, but in no danger of getting anywhere on a minuscule budget.

Anyway, I only said the physicists knew.

I think I remember a story that Szilard and somebody went to Washington to meet with an Army colonel who had been ordered to give them some funds for the pile in Chicago, and this colonel told them he had a goat tied up out at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and a standing $10,000 prize offered to the first man able to kill that goat with a "death ray."

Hagar said...

While we are at it, could Mr. Jupiter re-do Milutin Milankovic's calculations with the correct applications of the Fourier transformations, so that we can all see what the real cycles are?
It would seem that the factors he considered would have considerable effects on the climate, and Mr. Jupiter could make a name for himself by publishing the correct calculations.

jono39 said...

The ironies of course are endless. The bomb was promoted from fear that the Germans would develop it first. There was some grounds for fearing this but fortunately for us they got rid of their Jewish physicists which pretty much ended their chances, combined with the German high commands lack of imagination, Their bloodlust was obviously very high which obstructed their thinking. The other major irony of course is that using the Bomb on the Japanese created the conditions for the world in which we grew up in, a world of plenty and generosity. IF we had not nukes the Nips as I called them as a baby, we would have had to invade and conquer the home islands. We would have won of course but the price would have been immense and we would reduced Japan to a rubble heap, Instead we were consumed by guilt -- not Mac but the educated public, and we allowed Japan to create an economic miracle after freeing their women, sort of.

traditionalguy said...

Jupiter...That is the point. in a total secrecy time no one knew the Germans were not in production. The raids on heavy water supplies in Norway were priority.

The Germans were overrun by late April by the Soviet attacks that cost the attackers a quarter million casualties in advancing over German soil much faster than anyone expected directly into Berlin.

The Americans instead sent Patton's Third Army blitzing into the southern German areas where the Germans kept the research and special weapons programs under development. So Russians got to rape German women and girls in Berlin for revenge and the Americans took the Atom Bomb materials, which they have kept secret of course.

The race to make a weapon from the atom was a race with Germany. Berlin got very lucky by being captured by the Soviets, while three months later Hiroshima Japan got very unlucky when Berlin's bomb arrived there instead.



Anonymous said...

What's perhaps most interesting in it all is the remarkably disproportionate representation of Hungarians amongst the early nuclear physicists.

Hungarians are a pretty smart bunch. Multiple studies show that the country's average I.Q. score is 99, but that's almost certainly dragged down a few points by the Gypsy population (officially 2% but in reality at least 5%), most of whom are at or below the I.Q. threshold for mental retardation. Without that effect Hungary's average I.Q. would be 102 or possibly 103, which would place it up with Germany and Austria as the very smartest European countries.

Also, while Hungarians today look completely European, go way, way back in their history and they share some common ancestry with Northeast Asians such as Chinese and Japanese. No one's ever accused the Chinese and Japanese of not being smart.

Peter

Fernandinande said...

ironrailsironweights said...
[Hungary]'s average I.Q. score is 99, but that's almost certainly dragged down a few points by the Gypsy population (officially 2% but in reality at least 5%), most of whom are at or below the I.Q. threshold for mental retardation.


"Out of the total of 60 Matrices, the Roma solved an average of 29, placing them at the 3rd percentile on 1993 U.S. norms, yielding an IQ equivalent of 70. On the executive function tests, the Roma averaged at about the level of Serbian 10-year-olds."

sinz52 said...

"pointy-headed librul disease"

If it weren't for FDR, a liberal, we wouldn't have had the Manhattan Project at all.

FDR's decision to trust Einstein's word on this issue was truly momentous.

I'm one conservative who is grateful that we had FDR around to confront the Axis rather than an isolationist Republican like Wheeler.

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Michael McNeil said...

Truman gave them a demonstration alright at Hiroshima. They were apparently unimpressed so the demonstration was repeated at Nagasaki three days later which produced the desired result saving the lives of millions more.

The Hiroshima bomb was a uranium device, which Japanese physicists could readily detect by analyzing the radioactive debris left behind. Very likely their advice to the Imperial government was that, U-235 being so enormously difficult to extract from the inert uranium matrix that it's in, very likely U.S. had no more or only a very few more bombs (which was exactly correct, America had no more uranium bombs, and wouldn't for months). A bomb dribbling out every half year or year, the Japanese knew they could well survive — so they didn't surrender! Had the Nagasaki bomb been a uranium bomb as well, that might merely have reinforced that earlier conclusion.

But the Nagasaki bomb was a plutonium device. Plutonium, rather than having to be (with great difficulty) separated from its isotopic kin as with U-235 uranium, is a distinct element that can be readily separated chemically from other fissionably inert materials, and moreover can theoretically be manufactured en masse in a reactor. Thus, plutonium bombs meant that Japan might be subject to a rain of bombs in such quantity over a short timeframe that the country would be utterly destroyed. (In reality, the U.S. had no more plutonium bombs immediately after Nagasaki either, the only other one had been used up in the July demonstration, but the potential was there.) After recognizing America's use of a plutonium bomb, the Japanese surrendered.

Rich Rostrom said...

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...
What's perhaps most interesting in it all is the remarkably disproportionate representation of Hungarians amongst the early nuclear physicists.

Someone once joked to Teller about that, suggesting these supposed Hungarians were really Martian infiltrators.

Teller froze, looked worried, then said "Has von Kármán been talking again?"