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Experiments into the fission of uranium


Bohr suggesting that uranium can be split
Edward Teller Scientist
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That was perhaps the most interesting conference, except for one event, and that happened in January 1939. I have mentioned several times that I was not an enthusiastic early riser. Well, during... at the time of one of these conferences, Gamow had invited Niels Bohr, and he came at me at one early morning, the day before the conference, with the statement: Bohr has gone crazy. He claims that the uranium nucleus splits. I was sleepy and did not respond.

Next morning, Bohr gave his paper. By that time, I had figured out what he probably would say. And the details I could not know, the general idea I could. I told you that Fermi had absorbed neutrons in almost everything. And when he got the neutrons absorbed in uranium, then he got a great number of radioactivities, I knew about that. I knew that this was supposed to lead to transuranics and I also heard, by that time, about some objections to the point that quite so many radioactivities might be found. The actual possibility of a neutron getting absorbed in a uranium, the absorption energy being sufficient to split the uranium and thereby to give new radioactivities of known elements, that was the solution. And by the time I heard it, it was hardly a surprise.

The late Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller helped to develop the atomic bomb and provided the theoretical framework for the hydrogen bomb. During his long and sometimes controversial career he was a staunch advocate of nuclear power and also of a strong defence policy, calling for the development of advanced thermonuclear weapons.

Listeners: John H. Nuckolls

John H. Nuckolls was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1988 to 1994. He joined the Laboratory in 1955, 3 years after its establishment, with a masters degree in physics from Columbia. He rose to become the Laboratory's Associate Director for Physics before his appointment as Director in 1988.

Nuckolls, a laser fusion and nuclear weapons physicist, helped pioneer the use of computers to understand and simulate physics phenomena at extremes of temperature, density and short time scales. He is internationally recognised for his work in the development and control of nuclear explosions and as a pioneer in the development of laser fusion.

Duration: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008