A friend at work caught me reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb while I stood outside the main entrance of the office building, read the cover, and said, “Well, this can’t be good. Does it come with blueprints and directions?”
Funnily enough, when I bought the book I had the idea that it was going to be exactly that kind of techno-geek gadget fest, but it turns out to be a long, deep look at the beginnings of modern physics, starting with Leo Szilard, the Hungarian physicist who first realized that it should be possible to release the awesome energies that hold an atom together by starting a chain reaction. Not only that, when he was attending the University of Berlin he solved a problem in thermodynamics that one of his teachers, a certain Albert Einstein, thought was impossible, and took it to him to show him how it was done.
In the second chapter, J.J. Thomson pieces together a cathode ray tube and Ernest Rutherford’s experiments with it lead to the discovery of radioactivity. This little bit of backtracking is a way of explaining how Szilard twigged to the idea of chain reactions in the first place by first explaining how experimenters like Thomson and Rutherford noodled out the structure of the atom. All this was happening back in the late 1890′s and early 1900′s. That just kills me. Back when the trains were pulled by steam engines, these guys were learning how to split the atom.
I’ve just started chapter three where Niels Bohr has just made his big entrance, and may have to read it several times, because Bohr is laying the groundwork for quantum physics. Billiard balls smashing against each other I can handle, but there’s so much more to it that that now that I have to think about every single word. Still a great read, though.smashing | 10:14 pm CDT
Category: entertainment | Tags: books