Atomic weapons

Cosmos - - Cosmos Science Club - — CATHAL O’CON­NELL

IN THE EARLY 20th cen­tury Marie Curie and oth­ers re­alised that although ra­dioac­tive el­e­ments like ra­dium emit­ted energy at a tiny rate, the to­tal amount re­leased over thou­sands of years was enor­mous.

This idea led H.G. Wells to write his 1914 novel The World Set Free, in which he imag­ined sci­en­tists har­ness­ing the im­mense power of atomic energy and how it could fuel a world war.

In 1932 the Hun­gar­ian physi­cist Leo Szi­lard, then liv­ing in Ber­lin, read Wells’ novel and was in­spired by the vi­sion.

When Hitler took power in Ger­many the fol­low­ing year, Szi­lard, who was Jewish, fled to Eng­land. In Septem­ber 1933, while wait­ing for the traf­fic lights to change at Lon­don’s Russell Square, Szi­lard re­alised the key to tap­ping the power in­side the atomic nu­cleus was a nu­clear chain re­ac­tion.

In 1939 it was Szi­lard who drafted the let­ter signed by Al­bert Ein­stein that warned US pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt of the dan­ger of Ger­many de­vel­op­ing atomic weapons. From that warn­ing the Amer­i­can atomic pro­gram, the Manhattan Project, was born.

POWER CON­TROL UNIT:

A mech­a­nism to op­ti­mally con­trol both fuel-cell stack out­put un­der var­i­ous op­er­a­tional con­di­tions and drive bat­tery charg­ing and dis­charg­ing.

H. Arm­strong Roberts / Getty Images

SCI­ENCE FIC­TION SOURCE: H.G. Wells’ 1914 novel The World Set Free

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