Brainy Quote of the Day

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Shiva. Image Source: Hiroshima Poetry, related to the embed below
Topics: Existentialism, Manhattan Project, Nuclear Physics, Nuclear Power

Having lived through the "duck-and-cover" drills of the sixties and seventies (for me at least), the fact we don't do them anymore doesn't reduce the existential danger. We have the unique position in species of intelligence on this Earth, a way - as Carl Sagan would have said - for the Cosmos to "know itself." We're also the only species that could take the other sentient ones on our globe into oblivion by myriad, maddening means. The drama isn't too accurate, and some of the characterizations aren't spot-on or accurate (like Oppenheimer as "jerk" - he wasn't in what I've read), but it should spark some interest in the project in general, and nuclear physics in particular.

Physics Buzz: This fall (2014), a new primetime drama appeared on the television network WGN America, featuring scientists at Los Alamos working tirelessly--desperately, even--to develop nuclear weapons during World War II, all while maintaining utmost secrecy. Manhattan draws on the rich underlying history of its namesake, the Manhattan Project, but steers clear of documentary tendencies. Whereas the premise of the show and several key figures are largely based on their real-life counterparts, the main cast is populated by fictional characters, whose personal and scientific struggles acquaint us with the broader themes of privacy, government surveillance, and trust. Today on the podcast, we discuss how Manhattan brings nuclear physics to primetime TV, and what’s gained or lost along the way.

It was a great scientific triumph, and we won the war. It had many spin-offs in peaceful space program (even as that was essentially the Cold War above our heads) and nuclear physics applications - fission initially, then hopefully fusion eventually - as well as the analysis of what is now known as Black Holes. I suspect however, it was also Dr. Oppenheimer's greatest regret:


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