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Book Club 2018 > December 2018 - Atomic Bomb

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message 1: by Betsy, co-mod (new)

Betsy | 1740 comments Mod
For December 2018 we will be reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

Please use this thread to post questions, comments, and reviews, at any time.


message 2: by Rumell (new)

Rumell Khan (rkrespectedmember) I've read about that.


message 3: by Katy (new)

Katy (kathy_h) | 174 comments This is a very good book. I hope you all enjoy it.


message 4: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I need to write notes to keep track of the names, places, dates, and organizations. also, I don't like his practice of leaving out the year ("...in December..." - I forgot what year we were in. Was it 1939, or are we in 1940 already?).

What I really, really like is that he really goes in depth about the background information, not only about the science, but about the biographical backgrounds of the people as he introduces them, and the places. He's in no rush to finish the book. He's going to take as long as he needs to give you the ENTIRE story. This is the way science history should be done!


message 5: by Betsy, co-mod (new)

Betsy | 1740 comments Mod
I'm sorry. I just can't face an 886 page book. It takes me long enough to read a 350 page book. It may be good science history, but it's just not for me.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 368 comments Excellent book. I may well be up for a reread. (Especially as I now have a copy on Kindle, as my paperback copy from the 80s has lost its covers at this point, as well as being quite heavy.)


message 7: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Betsy wrote: "I'm sorry. I just can't face an 886 page book. It takes me long enough to read a 350 page book. It may be good science history, but it's just not for me."

One of the great hidden pleasures of life: really long books. (Hint: you don't actually have to read the whole thing cover-to-cover. You can just say you did.)


message 8: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments While it is still a lot of pages, about 750 make up the book. The last 130 are acknowledgments, citations, etc.

I started reading this about a month ago and it is certainly not a quick read and is very dense, it is quite interesting and very well researched though. I am about half done.

If you don't have at least a high school chemistry and physics course under your belt you probably shouldn't read it though as large amounts of the discussion on various elements, alpha particles, neutrons, fission, etc will be lost on someone without at least a rudimentary understand of atoms and physics. With that said, this book (at least thus far for me) is a lot more about the history of various discoveries and the state of the world that led to them, than it is about in depth chemistry and physics. I haven't encountered any math yet for those that would be discouraged by that lol.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 368 comments That's accurate for the first half of the book; the second is about actually building the bomb. I am a math phobe and love this book, btw.


message 10: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments Joel wrote: "I need to write notes to keep track of the names, places, dates, and organizations. also, I don't like his practice of leaving out the year ("...in December..." - I forgot what year we were in. Was..."

I agree Joel, he is not in a hurry to finish but also pretty much everything he tells you is interesting and relevant. So, while there are a ton of names and info in there and my notes on the book would probably be 150 pages themselves...I find it very interesting even though there is no way I can retain it all. I also agree that this is the way science history should be done. It's taking a long time to finish but I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of it!


message 11: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments I am on page 53, Chapter 3, which seems that it will be about Niels Bohr. So far there is a lot in the book about people, and a bit about neutrons and how Rutherford figured out what an atom consists of and that sort of thing. Matthew is exactly right; the author is not in any hurry to get through this, but so far it is fairly easy reading, with the stuff about the atoms fascinating me and the stuff about the people, so-so. Can't wait to get to the meat of it where they start building the bomb but I think this is very good background so I will plod on.....


message 12: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments You are going to be waiting a while Nancy lol, I am on about page 420 and they are about to start assembling lol. That said, there is a ton of interesting information that has got me to this point and Rhodes does a great job of bring your along chronologically to see how we get to the point of an atomic bomb and the outside influences that basically force the development of it.

Spoiler alert: The Nazis potentially getting it first is the main driving factor lol, but I think that is fairly common knowledge. It must have been a very frightening time to live with this knowledge knowing who can create it first will essentially shape much of how the world will looking going forward.


message 13: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I find it interesting how he covers the efforts to create the bomb in Germany and Japan as well. I never knew that Japan was also trying to develop the bomb, especially so early in the war already.


message 14: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments That was also news to me Joel, I didn't know there was ever a Japanese effort to create an atomic bomb.


message 15: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments oh! Matthew! don't tell me who wins, I hate it when someone gives away the ending LOL. well, I have a question: I am only on page 73 (of my copy) and already stuck. regarding the Balmer formula lamda = 3645.6(n^2/n^-4) where lambda is the wavelength and "n takes the value of 3,4,5 and so on for the various lines" I assume he means the lines on the spectrum but how do they arrive at the value n and what exactly measurement does n represent?


message 16: by RandomDots (last edited Nov 16, 2018 09:30AM) (new)

RandomDots | 7 comments Nancy wrote: "oh! Matthew! don't tell me who wins, I hate it when someone gives away the ending LOL. well, I have a question: I am only on page 73 (of my copy) and already stuck. regarding the Balmer formula lam..."
Balmer lines in an atomic spectrum are produced when an electron makes a transition from higher energy state to the energy state corresponding to principal quantum n=2.
Here n is the principal quantum number of the electron. It's called principal because the energy of the electron depends upon it.


message 17: by RandomDots (last edited Nov 16, 2018 09:46AM) (new)

RandomDots | 7 comments So when the electron makes the transition from a higher energy(n>=3) state to a lower energy (n=2)state it releases the remaining energy in the form of light(photon) of a specific wavelength given by the very formula you mentioned.


message 18: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments I also had to look this up and while I still don't completely grasp it wikipedia has some good info on it...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balmer_...


message 19: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments Thanks for that explanation Ajeet that a nice concise description!


message 20: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Thank you! and the levels are conveniently 3,4,5 etc. ( read and surfed the wikipedia links until my head started to hurt a little....)


message 21: by Joel (last edited Nov 16, 2018 12:51PM) (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Shhhh... Guys, you're scaring people off of the book. Now they think it's full of formulas and complicated science. It's really not. That's probably the only equation in the book. ;)


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 368 comments I slid right on over that one and didn't feel like I missed a thing.


message 23: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Lol you probably didnt. There is some really good writing here. Regarding wwI, he writes "No human institution. ...was sufficiently strong to resist the death machine. A new mechanism, the tank, ended the stalemate. An old mechanism, the blockade, choked off the German supply of food and material. The increasing rebelliousness of foot soldiers threatened the security of the bureaucrats. Or the death machine worked too well, as against France, and began to run out of raw material. The Yanks came in with their sleeves rolled up, an untrenched continent behind them where the trees were not hung with entrails. The war putrifold to a close. "


message 24: by Joel (last edited Nov 18, 2018 12:22PM) (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I found the part about the exodus of Jewish scientists from Nazi Germany exceedingly interesting.


message 25: by Matthew (last edited Nov 19, 2018 05:31AM) (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments For anyone scared of this book now I am around page 450 and it is certainly not up, to this point, full of equations. There is lots of physics and chemistry talk obviously, but up until now the actual formulas and math have been left out, as it isn't really important to the story he is telling.

This isn't a how to manual it's a history of how this came to happen. Don't be scared, if you have some basic physics and chemistry knowledge you will be just fine and if the formula Nancy mentioned confuses you the good thing is, it doesn't really matter lol. You won't miss out on anything by glossing over that equation as Susanna said.


message 26: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments This really is a terrifically readable book! And no frustrating equations since then. I am now puzzling over how those atoms keep all those protons packed in the middle, when it seems like they should repel each other and go flying apart, and why the electrons don't cave in and attach to the protons. I know it has to do with some "weak" or "strong" forces, and somehow there is some sort of "glue" that holds the nucleus together, but that doesn't really answer my question.


message 27: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Maybe it's just me but it seems the book's pace is picking up. Very good writing, such as (when they're figuring out neutrons): "They therefore conjured up various ways to torture hydrogen --blasting it with electrical discharges, searching out the effects on it of passing cosmic rays --in the hope that the H atoms that had been stable since the early days of the universe would somehow agree to collapse into neutrality in their hands."


message 28: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments Unfortunately Nancy the physics of the atom to the extent you are discussing is beyond the scope of the book I think...it would then have to be 1000+ pages lol. Those are great questions and probably pretty common ones for people who don't have extensive chemistry/physics education but you won't get those answer in this book.

That said you have the basic idea (as I understand it anyways being neither a physicist nor a chemist) the electrons don't fly away because of the opposite charge of the protons. The nucleus is held together by the strong nuclear force which is stronger than the electrostatic repulsion of the like positive charges, but only operates over an extremely short distance therefore does not affect the electrons. The reason the electrons don't cave in is a little trickier...forgive me if I get this wrong but this is how I understand it, anyone can feel free to correct it if I have it wrong. Kinetic energy keeps the electron moving and therefore out of the nucleus, and because kinetic energy increases at a 2-1 rate while potential energy declines at the inverse rate, the electron finds a kinetic/potential balance before it reaches the nucleus.

For me to pace keeps increasing as I go...it only gets better!!


message 29: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I think that's exactly it. The strong nuclear force is what keeps the nucleus together. The strong force is much stronger than the electromagnetic force, so it overpowers the electromagnetic repulsion between protons that would otherwise push them nucleus apart. The problem is that the strong force works only on very short distances, so if you try to force two nuclei together until they are very close, the strong nuclear force won't work to pull them together, and electromagnetic repulsion will force them apart. To get two nuclei to fuse, you need to somehow overcome the electromagnetic repulsion until you get them close enough for the strong force to take over. That's how fusion works (Hydrogen + Hydrogen = Helium). Fission is the opposite. You need to pull the nucleus apart far enough for the strong force to "let go" and electromagnetic repulsion to take over.


message 30: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Very interesting stuff. I really like this book. The process of extracting the plutonium sounds extremely tedious but imagine their excitement when they first viewed that tiny pink spec on a hitherto fore unknown element!
Rhodes is a very good writer. I noticed this passage (regarding fusion): "But from the pre-anthropic darkness where ideas abide in nonexistence until minds imagine them into light ..." I can't figure out whether this is meaningless goobledygook or beautiful writing, but I like it all the same.


message 31: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Joel wrote: "I think that's exactly it. The strong nuclear force is what keeps the nucleus together. The strong force is much stronger than the electromagnetic force, so it overpowers the electromagnetic repuls..."
I think I just found it. Page 417 in my book. "Both required that the deuterium nuclei be hot enough when they cooled--energetic enough, violently enough in motion--the overcome the nuclear electrical barrier that usually repels them. The minimum necessary energy was thought at the time to come to about 35,000 electron volts, which corresponds to a temperature of about 400 million degrees..." etc etc.
Kind of stretches the imagination.


message 32: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Matthew wrote: "Unfortunately Nancy the physics of the atom to the extent you are discussing is beyond the scope of the book I think...it would then have to be 1000+ pages lol. Those are great questions and probab..."

I'm not grasping what you just said, unless it is something like a planet in orbit that doesn't fall into the sun but doesn't go jetting off into space because of gravity. Only this isn't gravity. And I do vaguely recall something about kinetic and potential energy, you're saying they strike a balance but I'm not quite getting it.


message 33: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments Unfortunately electron orbits are not really like planets at all, its a lot more complicated and involves quantum physics and I don't completely understand it so I won't speak on that.

It's easy to understand that opposite charges attract so I think the reason they don't fly away is easy, its the why don't they crash into the nucleus that's a little more tricky. Since the amount of energy the election has must stay the same, it must find an equilibrium between the kinetic energy which increase a double the rate when approaching the nucleus, than the potential energy decreases. The simplified explanation is basically the electron resides where it finds the equilibrium. At least that is how I understand it. Hope this helps...


message 34: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments A little I reckon. It is very hard to imagine. They have all that energy, where does it come from? Stuff on the macroscopic level eventually run out of energy but atoms never do. Newton's laws do not apply.


message 35: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments Nothing really "runs out of energy" conservation of energy tells us it cannot be created or destroyed...it just changes. Energy get release as heat or light for example...so one thing may lose energy but it still exists somewhere in some form. Newton's law do apply.

Caveat...again I am not a physicist and this is my understanding. Anyone feel to correct me if I am incorrect.


message 36: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Matthew wrote: "Nothing really "runs out of energy" conservation of energy tells us it cannot be created or destroyed...it just changes. Energy get release as heat or light for example...so one thing may lose ener..."

OK, then, that law about entropy. That doesn't allow you to break even. Where part of your energy is "wasted" as heat. Which I realize is not the same as disappearing. Which I suppose does not apply to electrons buzzing around atoms, otherwise they would stop moving.


message 37: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments It does, some of the energy an electron possesses definitely radiates away as it approaches the nucleus but it wasn't really important in our discussion so I didn't mention it. Electron actually act more like waves than physical matter in the way they orbit but there are constant forces being applied to them so they will never stop moving even though some of there energy they continue to lose.
(As I understand it anyway)


message 38: by Garrett (last edited Nov 30, 2018 11:03PM) (new)

Garrett (gman1312) | 24 comments When we are talking about fusion and fission we are actually talking about protons and neutrons, not so much electrons. What makes uranium uranium, rather than some other element like hydrogen is the number of protons in the nucleus (which consists of both protons and neutrons). Since protons are the same, consider it like the north pole of a really strong magnet. If you try to force a bunch of strong magnets together with the north pole in the middle, it will be very difficult. You have to put a lot of energy into forcing the poles together. It is the same with the protons. It takes a lot of energy to force them into a small space. However, once they get close enough together a force called the Strong Nuclear Force will kick in that will hold the particles in place. All the energy that was put into forcing those particles together is then retained within that strong nuclear force, so if that force is broken all of that energy is expelled. That is a rough idea for what is happening.


message 39: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 7 comments I have enjoyed reading all of your discussion about this book, but I'm with Betsy, I can't face an 886 page book right now.


message 40: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I'm noticing a few typos. (I have the 2012 Simon and Schuster 25th Anniversary Edition). For example, on page 51, second last paragraph on the page, the sentence "It the atom operated by the mechanical laws of classical physics..." should be "IF the atom...". Also on page 26, last paragraph on the page, after the long quotation "attempted something of the sort...", The word "and" in "And may have thought again..." should not be capitalized.


message 41: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments Garrett wrote: "When we are talking about fusion and fission we are actually talking about protons and neutrons, not so much electrons. What makes uranium uranium, rather than some other
element like hydrogen is t..."


Agreed, I was only talking about electrons because Nancy posed a questions about them and why they do not either fly away or crash into the nucleus. Definitely neutrons are the main interest in this case, as the uranium particles are being both bombarded with neutrons and that is also was is being knocked loose from the nuclei.


message 42: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I have a question for those who have read Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. While reading this book, I'm thinking about which work is normal science and which is revolutionary science. For example, I think Bohr's paper on the structure of the aton would be revolutionary. How about Werner Heisenberg's follow-up work? That seems to have been normal science.

How about Rutherford? I tend to think that Rutherford's work was normal science. He did find the anomalies that Borh patched up, but I don't know if Rutherford's work can be classified as revolutionary.

Just wondering what you guys' thoughts are.


message 43: by David (new)

David Rubenstein | 916 comments Mod
Joel, I believe that many of the names mentioned in the book are truly responsible for revolutionizing physics; Heisenberg, Bohr, Pauli, Fermi, Einstein, Planck, de Broglie, Dirac, Schrodinger, and Rutherford all made advances that pushed quantum mechanics forward in remarkable ways. You can ask, how would physics have evolved if any of them had not gone into the field--of course someone else could have made the same advance. But the concepts that each one of them developed are important pillars of quantum mechanics.


message 44: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Matthew wrote: "Garrett wrote: "When we are talking about fusion and fission we are actually talking about protons and neutrons, not so much electrons. What makes uranium uranium, rather than some other
element l..."

True. I went off on a tangent trying to wrap my mind around what makes an atom tick.


message 45: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 416 comments Joel wrote: "I have a question for those who have read Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. While reading this book, I'm thinking about which work is normal sc..."

Wasn't Rutherford the one who figured out that atoms were a nucleus surrounded by electrons in orbit, rather than pudding with raisins? That seems pretty important.


message 46: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Grenier | 19 comments Nancy wrote: "Matthew wrote: "Garrett wrote: "When we are talking about fusion and fission we are actually talking about protons and neutrons, not so much electrons. What makes uranium uranium, rather than some ..."

No worries at all, it was great discussion. Hope it helped wrap you head around it all...its not simple topic to grasp.

Joel, I would say Rutherford's atomic model was revolutionary at the time even though it has since been proved to be a little bit inaccurate. He did discover that there was in fact a nucleus. Heisenberg I tend to agree with you a little more on though, he kinda fine tuned Rutherford's thoughts with his uncertainty principal changing the way we think of electrons "orbiting" a nucleus. It was important, but I don't know if I classify the uncertainty principal as revolutionary.


message 47: by Joel (last edited Dec 04, 2018 08:44PM) (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments I'm reading chapter six now. At first, the description of Lawrence's accelerator was confusing to me. I think I understand it now, though. It helped to use this picture instead of the one on page 147:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclo...
I think much of my confusion was that I didn't understand the shape of the "dee"s. The image on Wikipedia is more clear - they are two semicircular hollow flat (half-) cylinders. The vertical magnetic fields are there to cause the beam to curve - remember that a magnetic field will cause a beam of charge to bend around it, just like in a cathode ray tube. The two "dee"s are there to attract the beam of charged particles and accelerate them. So, the ion source emits charged particles, they are drawn into one one the "dee"s, curve around the magnetic field, then the potential of the two "dee"s switch (they are powered with an alternating current) so that now the beam of charged particles are pulled into the second "dee", so on around the magnetic field, at which point the potential of the two "dee"s switch again drawing the beam into the first "dee" again, and so on. With each revolution, the beam accelerates so that by the time it escapes from the accelerator, it is moving fast enough to smash into the target at a high speed.


message 48: by Garrett (new)

Garrett (gman1312) | 24 comments Reminds me of Hemholtz coil experiments, but with the extra complication of having to time the alternating current.


message 49: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments Garrett wrote: "Reminds me of Hemholtz coil experiments, but with the extra complication of having to time the alternating current."

I believe the brilliance of Lawrence's method is that the time it takes for the smaller and the larger loops of the spiral to go around are equal, so you only have to synchronize to a single frequency.


message 50: by Joel (new)

Joel (joeldick) | 219 comments And synchronizing the frequency to match the time it takes for the beam to make it around the dee is a matter of calibrating until you get the maximum amplification and was probably done by trial and error (well, the rough estimate of the frequency was probably derived theoretically, but the fine-tuning was probably done manually).


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