The Atomic Bomb

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You are driving along, you stop at a red light, you are probably thinking about what you will have for dinner, but while Dr. Leo Szilard was stopped at a red light he came up with an idea that would destroy two cities, kill hundreds of thousands of people, shock the world and make history - the atomic bomb. One hundred thousand people worked to build the atomic bomb, it killed over 130,000 people in one day at Hiroshima. Dr. Leo Szilard gave birth in his mind to the atomic bomb while sitting at a red light in September 1933, at the South Hampton Row intersection in London. His professor Dr. Albert Einstein had admired Szilard as a genius "rich in ideas". As the red light changed it occurred to Szilard that "he needed to find one element that could be split by neutrons, sustain a chain reaction and thereby liberate incredible amounts of energy." The Greek word atomos means anything that can't be split. Leo Szilard was thrown out of Ernest Rutherford's office, the director of the Lavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University during a meeting where he was explaining his idea of the chain reaction. Years later in 1939 the atom was split and Dr. Leo Szilard would play a critical part in the making of the atomic bomb. April 24, 1939 physicist Paul Harteck and Lord Rutherford wrote to Hitler's war office telling him about the newest development in nuclear physics. Professor Hans Geiger co-inventor of the Geiger counter was shown this letter. In June of that year Geiger's close associates published an article describing a possible way to produce a chain reaction and a "uranium machine". Export of uranium was banned in Germany as a result of this article. Szilard and scientist Wigner figured the Germans knew much more than they were saying and believed the United States government wasn't even in the race. They went to Albert Einstein to see if they could get the U.S. government interested. Einstein was reluctant so Szilard went to another old friend a politician Gustaw Stulper who then introduced them to Dr. Alexander Sachs and economist who knew his way around Washington. Einstein helped them by writing a letter which Sachs personally delivered to President F.D.R. Letters were sent and Szilard's patience was being tested. They gave Sach's ten days to act. Eventually Sachs got F.D.R. interested and the United States government would fund the project, but it took 3 years to get past the exploratory stages. Szilard and Dr. Walter Tinn performed an experiment on March 2, 1939 in which fast neutrons were being omitted in the fission at uranium. The experiment meant the bomb was possible and that history would be made. Even with the U.S. government co-operation nothing happened. The cheque for $6000 dollars for the purchase of graphite to start the experiments that was promised to Szilard never came. His scientists Wigner and Teller went back to teaching. Szilard had no money because he had not earned any as he was busy doing experiments and borrowing money. The only thing that kept him going was the fear that the Nazis would make progress on the bomb. News from Berlin that a section of the Kaiser Wilhem Institute was being converted to uranium research was unsettling to Szilard. He convinced Einstein to get Sachs to put pressure on Washington. Szilard told Washington he would submit an article to the Physical Review describing a graphite uranium system he felt would be chain reacting. The article would be released if the government didn't start with the nuclear investigation in a reasonable amount of time. On February 20, 1939 his promised $6000.00 arrived. In November Columbia University received a $40,000 contract to develop a Szilard - Fermi system of producing a chain reaction and Szilard was given a place on the Universities payroll. Behind the scenes U.S. government officials were debating whether the project would be canceled. In Britain two scientists - Frisch and Peivels made significant findings on the bomb, they found it would only take 5 - 10 kg. of uranium not 100 tons as the Americans had feared. The U.S. government didn't take any interest in them and they were keeping secrets from Szilard that would help advance his findings. Szilard needed more money to do better experiments and the U.S. government wasn't doing anything to advance the weapon that could win the war. October 9, 1941 a meeting of government officials was held and President D.D.R. gave the go-ahead that the research and development was to be pushed to the limit. Szilard and the hundreds of other scientists were now to prove by experiment that a large scale; self-sustaining chain reaction was possible. Szilard and Fermi had accomplished the self sustained chain reaction by December 18, 1942. The building of the bomb was about to begin. A facility in Los Alamos was being built

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