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The explosion: 'There was no sound'


Beating the casino one minute, Operation Plumbbob the next
Jeremy Bernstein Scientist
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The plane lands, we get off and there’s a government car to pick up Carson and myself and Francis. We were driven immediately to a casino. I said, 'Well...gee'. Now it turned out that some mathematician in the army had produced a method by which you could beat the house in blackjack. And they had published it in a math journal, and had come to Los Alamos, because everybody who was going to bomb tests spent their time in the casinos (when they weren’t testing bombs) playing blackjack.

So the new big machine, called The Maniac, in Los Alamos, had run off a few hundred thousand games to see if the system worked, and then they had printed out little cards, a little card which said, well, if the dealer does this, we do that. We all had little cards, I had my little card and we went there, played blackjack. I don’t think I won much of anything. And then the casino had a blue light, which went on indicating that the test was on for the following morning, so we all got in the car and went up to Mercury for the test. And that was about… by the time we got there, it was about two or three in the morning. The test was going to be started at 5:30, which was just at the beginning of the sunrise, and I got a little bit of sleep, and then we got woken up.

And Carson was a big wheel; he was, you know, in charge of the Theory Division at Los Alamos, so he took Francis and I first to see the meteorologist. There was a meteorologist, and he was studying the wind and he said, 'Yes, it looks good, the wind looks good, and that’s all right.'

And then we went to kind of a concrete place, which was probably 10 miles away from ground zero. And you could see the tower was… this was a tower thing. This was Operation Plumbbob, a series called Plumbbob.

Born in 1929, Jeremy Bernstein is an American physicist, educator and writer known for the clarity of his writing for the lay reader on the major issues of modern physics. After graduating from Harvard University, Bernstein worked at Harvard and at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. In 1962 he became an Associate Professor of Physics at New York University, and later a Professor of Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, a position he continues to hold. He was also on the staff of The New Yorker magazine.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Operation Plumbbob, J Carson Mark, Francis Low

Duration: 2 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: 15th June 2011

Date story went live: 07 September 2011