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What if a scientist was too smart?


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#1 SOAR21

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 06:05 AM

In chemistry class today, I read an article about the development of the atomic model, and I came across something that could have altered human history. This was not during the 1940s, or even the earlier war. This started in 1912, when Ernest Rutherford, conducted a puzzling experiment that suggested the presence of something else in an atom besides protons and electrons.

1913-Scientists are puzzled. Electrons should eventually lose their energy, leave orbit, and crash into the nucleus, assisted by the positively charged proton. But they don't! Niels Bohr hypothesizes that electrons can only follow certain orbits. His theory wins him the 1922 Nobel Prize, but there is still something missing...

1915~early 1920s: Ernest Rutherford explains that the mucleus must be offset with some sort of neutral particle (the neutron). It is simple and plausible, but not easy to prove. James Chadwick undertakes on a project to convince many skepticals of the validity of Rutherford's theory.

Historical Timeline
1932-James Chadwick finished eleven intensive years of research on proving the existence of neutrons (knowledge essential for the atomic bomb, because only something with neutral charge could pass the electric fields of the electrons to hit the nucleus and cause the fission to occur).

Later...The Americans and the Germans both see merit in the idea of an atomic superweapon (I know we have covered this many times already, but this is just too interesting)

1945-The Americans win the atomic race.

Very possible alternate timeline
1920s-Ernest Rutherford's theory of neutrons is accepted by Werner Heisenberg and the Germans, without Chadwick's additional work.

Later...The Germans (first because they are less isolationist and more militaristic) begin developing the bomb earlier than they did in history. The Americans start at the same time as in history, because their motivation was the oncoming possibility of war.

Early 1940s-The Germans win the atomic race, and Europe and possibly the world is doomed.




Before many of you dismiss this possibility, take this quote from a person named only Boorse in the article, apparently some sort of scientist in the 1930s. He may not be a historian, but he knew the nuclear history very well.

Excerpt from "The Mighty Atom", from Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything

As Boorse and his colleagues point out in their history of the subject, the delay in discovery was probably a very good thing as mastery of the neutron was essential to the development of the atomic bomb. (Because neutrons have no charge, they aren't repelled by the electrical fields at the heart of an atom and thus could be fired like tiny torpedoes into an atomic nucleus, setting off the destructive process known as fission.) Had the neutron been isolated in the 1920s, they note, it is "very likely the atomic bomb would have been developed first in Europe, undoubtedly by the Germans."
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#2 Miguel B.

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 03:23 PM

I disagree with the "very possible" :P And even if it were to happen, what would change the thinking of Heisenberg regarding his mistake?? Would he still not make it?? And what about the kind of nuclear reactor the Germans were developing??



Cheers...
Battles don't win wars, Logistics do!

#3 marc780

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 05:25 PM

German scientists were the first to split the atom, they did it in 1939.

Splitting the Atom

If Hitler had realized what these scientists had, he'd surely have given them alot more resources to weaponize it. As it was i think the whole idea was just too much for most people of that era to even comprehend, including Hitler.

#4 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 05:36 PM

In chemistry class today, I read an article about the development of the atomic model, and I came across something that could have altered human history. This was not during the 1940s, or even the earlier war. This started in 1912, when Ernest Rutherford, conducted a puzzling experiment that suggested the presence of something else in an atom besides protons and electrons.

1913-Scientists are puzzled. Electrons should eventually lose their energy, leave orbit, and crash into the nucleus, assisted by the positively charged proton. But they don't! Niels Bohr hypothesizes that electrons can only follow certain orbits. His theory wins him the 1922 Nobel Prize, but there is still something missing...

1915~early 1920s: Ernest Rutherford explains that the mucleus must be offset with some sort of neutral particle (the neutron). It is simple and plausible, but not easy to prove. James Chadwick undertakes on a project to convince many skepticals of the validity of Rutherford's theory.

Historical Timeline
1932-James Chadwick finished eleven intensive years of research on proving the existence of neutrons (knowledge essential for the atomic bomb, because only something with neutral charge could pass the electric fields of the electrons to hit the nucleus and cause the fission to occur).

Later...The Americans and the Germans both see merit in the idea of an atomic superweapon (I know we have covered this many times already, but this is just too interesting)

1945-The Americans win the atomic race.

Very possible alternate timeline
1920s-Ernest Rutherford's theory of neutrons is accepted by Werner Heisenberg and the Germans, without Chadwick's additional work.

Later...The Germans (first because they are less isolationist and more militaristic) begin developing the bomb earlier than they did in history. The Americans start at the same time as in history, because their motivation was the oncoming possibility of war.

Early 1940s-The Germans win the atomic race, and Europe and possibly the world is doomed.




Before many of you dismiss this possibility, take this quote from a person named only Boorse in the article, apparently some sort of scientist in the 1930s. He may not be a historian, but he knew the nuclear history very well.

Excerpt from "The Mighty Atom", from Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything

As Boorse and his colleagues point out in their history of the subject, the delay in discovery was probably a very good thing as mastery of the neutron was essential to the development of the atomic bomb. (Because neutrons have no charge, they aren't repelled by the electrical fields at the heart of an atom and thus could be fired like tiny torpedoes into an atomic nucleus, setting off the destructive process known as fission.) Had the neutron been isolated in the 1920s, they note, it is "very likely the atomic bomb would have been developed first in Europe, undoubtedly by the Germans."


I don't think so.

It took a lot more than just "accepting" a theory about neutrons to make an atomic bomb a practical possibility. There were many other problems, both theoretical and practical, which had to be solved before the atomic bomb could be built.

The atomic bomb project, and the theoretical work which preceded it, was not the province of any one country; it took the combined intellects of many different scientists and theoreticians from many different countries, all studying, criticizing, and commenting on the work of their colleagues over a period of years. That is why Britain France, the US, Germany, Italy, and Japan all knew something about the Atomic bomb projects and why there was any race at all. The same thing would have been required had it happened earlier.

Furthermore, I believe it was no coincidence that the bomb project only began moving perceptibly once war had actually broken out. Most people have no idea how huge, costly, and daunting the atomic bomb project actually was. No country could have mounted the project in time of peace; only a war could justify the necessary expense, risks, and sacrifices. At one point in the American bomb project, just the separation process to produce sufficient fissionable material to experiment with, was consuming one sixth of all the electrical power produced in the US. Few countries, and certainly not Germany in the 1920's, could have afforded such costs.

Most of the popular "what-if" articles about Germany developing an atomic bomb ignore the cold, hard realities of the economic costs and the scale of the required project. I recommend Leslie Groves book, "Now It Can Be Told" for some idea of what it really took to develop the atomic bomb.
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#5 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 07:05 PM

Well said DA. Once again the ugly head of Logistics raises it ugly head. The development of the bomb was a multinational collaberation of scientists and techs with he US providing the necessary major materials and staff. Things that the Germans in the 20s and 30s did not and could not have provided. The war certainly made the decision to get the bomb first an incentive and priority.

Edited by JCFalkenbergIII, 06 January 2009 - 08:24 PM.

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#6 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 09:10 PM

German scientists were the first to split the atom, they did it in 1939.

Splitting the Atom

If Hitler had realized what these scientists had, he'd surely have given them alot more resources to weaponize it. As it was i think the whole idea was just too much for most people of that era to even comprehend, including Hitler.


No, German scientists weren't the first to split the atom. Enrico Fermi, an Italian scientist, had done so in the early 1930's without realizing it. A German chemist, Ida Noddock, in 1934 wrote a paper in which she suggested that Fermi had actually split the atom, but, possibly because she was a woman, nobody paid any attention to her. Fermi won the 1938 Nobel prize in Physics for his work in bombarding atomic nuclei with neutrons.

Hahn and Strassmann didn't, at first, understand what had happened in their experiment. It took another German woman scientist, Lise Meitner, then in exile in Sweden to escape persecution, to explain that they must have split the atom

See John Archibald Wheeler's book, "Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam", Page 15.

#7 Za Rodinu

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 09:20 PM

Who needs gods when you can have Germans? :rolleyes:

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#8 SOAR21

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 10:45 PM

I don't think so.

It took a lot more than just "accepting" a theory about neutrons to make an atomic bomb a practical possibility. There were many other problems, both theoretical and practical, which had to be solved before the atomic bomb could be built.

The atomic bomb project, and the theoretical work which preceded it, was not the province of any one country; it took the combined intellects of many different scientists and theoreticians from many different countries, all studying, criticizing, and commenting on the work of their colleagues over a period of years. That is why Britain France, the US, Germany, Italy, and Japan all knew something about the Atomic bomb projects and why there was any race at all. The same thing would have been required had it happened earlier.

Furthermore, I believe it was no coincidence that the bomb project only began moving perceptibly once war had actually broken out. Most people have no idea how huge, costly, and daunting the atomic bomb project actually was. No country could have mounted the project in time of peace; only a war could justify the necessary expense, risks, and sacrifices. At one point in the American bomb project, just the separation process to produce sufficient fissionable material to experiment with, was consuming one sixth of all the electrical power produced in the US. Few countries, and certainly not Germany in the 1920's, could have afforded such costs.

Most of the popular "what-if" articles about Germany developing an atomic bomb ignore the cold, hard realities of the economic costs and the scale of the required project. I recommend Leslie Groves book, "Now It Can Be Told" for some idea of what it really took to develop the atomic bomb.


Actually, thanks for playing...umm...devil's advocate for this one. At first, i thought that if Germany was not in the bad situation it was in 1944, I thought that it might have the resources to complete the project. I looked into it a little more, and yes, you are right. Germany just did not have the capacity to pull it off for at least another five or seven years.
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#9 SOAR21

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 10:46 PM

German scientists were the first to split the atom, they did it in 1939.

Splitting the Atom

If Hitler had realized what these scientists had, he'd surely have given them alot more resources to weaponize it. As it was i think the whole idea was just too much for most people of that era to even comprehend, including Hitler.


the Germans only split the atom due to the isolation of the neutron. Had the neutron's existence been proved ten years earlier, the atom would have been split earlier as well, although now i know that Germany could never have completed the bomb project.
[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."




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