With the anniversary of the Trinity test (July 16) coming up, I would like to present to you some key events that led up to the event that changed the world. JP
December, 1938-May 7, 1945
In December, 1938, German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann (working in Berlin, Germany) and Lise Meitner (who was working in Sweden), “became the first to recognize that the uranium atom, when bombarded by neutrons, actually split.” This was a continuation of the work that Italian physicist Enrico Fermi had begun several years before, and who won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the artificial radioactivity produced by neutrons, and for nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons. (1)
This discovery coincided with Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity that he wrote in 1905. “A large amount of energy could be released from a small amount of matter. This was expressed by the equation E=mc2 (energy = mass times the speed of light squared). The atomic bomb would clearly illustrate this principle.” (2)
Realizing that this could result in the development of a weapon, and that it was Nazi Germany who was researching fission, on August 2, 1939 Leo Szilard* (with help from Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner) wrote a letter with Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt warning him on what was going on in Germany, and suggested that the United States start its own research on the use of uranium.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and 2 days later, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.
President Roosevelt authorized the Advisory Committee on Uranium, in response to the Szilard-Einstein letter. The committee met for the first time on October 21, 1939.
Two scientists working at the University of Birmingham, England, Rudolph Peierls and Otto Frisch (both would end up working at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project), released the “Frisch-Peierls Memorandum” in March, 1940. They were the first to calculate the size of critical mass needed to be used as an atomic bomb.(3)
The MAUD Committee (Military Application of Uranium Detonation) met for the first time in England on April 10, 1940 and began research into the feasibility of building an atomic bomb.
The National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) was created on June 27, 1940 in the United States, and was replaced by the Office of Scientific Research and Development on June 28, 1941. From this office would be the S-1 Uranium Committee, which would become the Manhattan Project.
The MAUD Report on July 15, 1941 concluded and recommended:
1) The committee considers that the scheme for a uranium bomb is practicable and likely to lead to decisive results in the war.
2) It recommends that this work be continued on the highest priority and on the increasing scale necessary to obtain the weapon in the shortest possible time.
3) That the present collaboration with America should be continued and extended especially in the region of experimental work. (4)
The project was known as Tube Alloys in Britain and Canada.
On December 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan, a day after they attacked Pearl Harbor. Germany and Italy would declare war on the US on December 11, 1941.
The Manhattan Project became official on August 13, 1942.
The United States and Britain conducted their first major offensive together during World War II on November 8, 1942 with the invasion of French North Africa in Operation Torch.
Collaboration on the development of the atomic bomb between the United States, Great Britain, and Canada happened when the Quebec Agreement was signed on August 19, 1943 at the Quebec Conference (August 17-24, 1943) in Quebec City, Quebec. In the agreement, they pledged that this technology would not be used against one another, not to employ it’s use against another country or share information about it with another country, without mutual consent.(5)
Because Great Britain was at war with Germany at the time, it was decided that a majority of the work was to be done in the United States, and that we would pick up most of the check.
This project would be one of the largest undertakings in the history of the United States, and create thousands of jobs. Three of the largest sites were: Hanford, Washington; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The work would involve close to 100 other sites across the United States, including at least nine major universities.(6)
May 7, 1945: Germany signs unconditional surrender document in Berlin, never developing the atomic bomb.
(1) Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann:
(2) Albert Einstein and the Atomic Bomb, by Doug Long:
(3) The Frisch-Peierls Memorandum
(4) The MAUD Report:
(5) The Quebec Conference-Agreement Relating to Atomic Energy:
(6) The Office of Health, Safety, and Security; Facility List for the Energy Employees Occupation Illness Compensation Program:
A well written website for you to check out, written by Gene Dannen, who researched the life of Leo Szilard:
An interesting story about the (Leo) Szilard Petition, July 1945, by Howard Gest:
Federation of American Scientists, Franck Report Summary:
End Part One.