Race for the Bomb: Part 1

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Do we really have Adolf Hitler to thank for the U.S. building the first Atomic Bomb, in a way yes.


Where the Atom Began

Ok, we are not really going the beginning of atoms but rather early atomic research. Dating back to 1908, New Zealand born, British scientist Earnest Rutherford received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in radioactive substances. His more important accomplishments occurred after he moved to Victoria University of Manchester, England where he theorized that atoms have their charge concentrated in the very small nucleus. Through his theories and experimentation he discovered the emission of subatomic particles that would become known as protons. In 1920 his leadership led to the discovery of the neutron and the controlled splitting of a nucleus, 1932.

The scientific world of atomic physics was rather small and closely knit. Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard learned of Rutherford’s work with splitting atom nucleus and theorized that if you can create a nuclear chain reaction you can generate a lot of energy or possibly a really big bomb. Together with Italian Physicist Enrico Fermi, Szilard patented the concept of an atomic pile or nuclear reactor. This would be a continuous atomic chain reaction.

In 1936, German chemist Otto Hahn had been following the work of Rutherford, and Fermi among many others. Hahn along with Lise Meitner, Otto Frisch, and Fritz Strassman explored the theories of nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is when an unstable atom splits into two or more smaller pieces that are more stable, and releases energy in the process. The fission process also releases extra neutrons, which can then split additional atoms, resulting in a chain reaction that releases a lot of energy. It would be in 1938 when Hahn and Strassman would discover and prove nuclear fission and come to understand the incredible energy it could release.

Thanks Adolf

As I began, do we really have Adolf Hitler to thank for the US building the first Atomic Bomb? With the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the early 1930s and the oppression and persecution of the Jews beginning in 1932, many Jews immigrated to other parts of Europe and the United States. With the politicization of the German education system, many of the great scientific minds in Germany also fled to other parts of Europe or to America. The racism directed at the Jews also defined some the critical sciences; nuclear physics and quantum mechanics; as Jewish science and denounces by the Third Reich.

Earnest Rutherford in his lab, McGill University, Quebec

Earnest Rutherford
Leo Szilard

Leo Szilard
Otto Hahn & Lise Meitner

Otto Hahn & Lise Meitner

Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass Germany, November 1938
Brian York • Curator, Exhibits & Collections
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

Brian started his career at the Museum in 1998 as an intern. A year later he was promoted to Associate Curator with a focus on managing the artifact and archive collection. In January of 2000, following a search for a new Curator, the Museum named Brian York as Curator of Exhibits and Collections. For more than 20 years, Brian has overseen the creation and/or installation of more than 120 exhibits and displays that have covered more than 300,000 square feet. He has also overseen the addition of 15,000 artifacts to the Museum’s collection and has provided in-depth research for numerous books, articles, and video/film productions.

Currently Brian oversees all historical exhibits, archives, library, and oral history projects as well as provides support for restoration, education and public relations. Brian earned a BA in History as well as Graduate Studies in History from the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Prior to joining the Museum, Brian gained valuable experience through his work with the General Dodge Home, National Park Service and Western Heritage Museum (now the Durham Museum).

In 2002, Brian joined the U S Navy Reserve with whom he has completed several assignments in the United States and abroad. He currently serves as Battalion Supply Senior Chief Petty Officer and BRAVO CO. Lead Chief Petty Officer for Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 22 and with Operational Support Unit 1362, Navy Operational Support Center Omaha.

Brian lives in Lincoln, NE with his wonderful wife Amber and their two amazing daughters, Cayleigh and Shannyn.