Guide E=mc2: A Biography of the Worlds Most Famous Equation

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  1. E=MC2 A Biography of the Worlds most Famous Equation
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Quiet in the Midday Snow A water drop is always on the verge of bursting apart, due to the weight inside it. That near-bursting weight is like the crackling electric charges between the protons in a nucleus. All the protons push against each other. But a water drop stays together, most of the time, because it also has a lot of rubbery surface tension on the top.

E=MC2 A Biography of the Worlds most Famous Equation

That is like the glue-taut strong force that clusters the protons together, despite all the electricity trying to push them apart. But in a big nucleus, a really huge one such as that of uranium, could the extra neutrons tip the balance? They had paper with them, and pencils, and in the cold of the Swedish forest, this Christmas Eve, they took them out and began calculating.

That would be as if the uranium nucleus were a water droplet that already was stretched apart as far as it could go before bursting.

Into that overstuffed nucleus, one more plump neutron was then inserted. Meitner started to draw the wobbles. She drew as well as she played the piano. Frisch took a pencil from her, politely, and did the sketches. The single extra neutron that came in made the nucleus begin to stretch in the middle. It was like taking a water balloon, and squeezing it in the middle. The two ends bulge out. But keep on with it.

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Squeeze in some more, and when the balloon spreads sideways, let go until it rebounds back toward the center and then squeeze in the opposite way. Keep on repeating.

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Eventually the balloon will burst. Each time the water balloon is rebounding back, you just let it reach its maximum rebound, and then—as with pumping on a swing—you give it a further squeeze to speed it on its way into yet another rubber-stretching contortion. Frisch and Meitner worked that out mostly in their heads.

Frisch takes up the story: Fortunately [my aunt] remembered how to compute the masses of nuclei. Quiet in the Midday Snow But how much energy would that be? The dot over a letter i has many more protons than there are stars in our galaxy. In Berkeley, California, a building-sized magnet was being planned that might, when charged with more electricity than the whole city of Berkeley ordinarily used, power up a particle to MeV of energy.

And now this speck was supposed to produce even more. It would seem impossible—except for the immense size of c 2. The world of mass, and the world of energy, are linked by that frantically widening bridge. The village was too far away to hear any market noises. Meitner did the calculation. Everyone had been wrong before. One woman, and her nephew, quiet in the midday snow, had now seen that.

Just get enough extra neutrons in there to start it off. This explosion powered itself. Meitner and her nephew considered their science politically neutral, so they prepared their discovery for the early years publication. It had to be named, and Frisch was reminded of how bacteria divide. The thirty-year quest was over.

What Meitner had realized was that this could occur because of the way the powerful electricity within the nucleus was held in by the springs or glue of the strong nuclear force. The deep insights behind the equation had guaranteed that it would simply become apparent in the form of energy, getting the powerful c 2 Quiet in the Midday Snow boost to magnify it in units of mph2 by nearly ,,,,, times. But in , the world had just begun its largest war ever. His work in relativity had made him the most famous scientist in the world.

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Sir: Some recent work. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. This new phenomenon would. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.

I found this data of such import that I have convened a board. Please accept my sincere thanks. He would be responsible for all U. In the long history of governments assigning the wrong man to a job—and there have been some choice ones—this is one of the choicest. Briggs had entered government service during the administration of Grover Cleveland, in , before the Spanish-American war.

He was a man of the past, comfortable with that time when everything had seemed easier, and America had been safe. He wanted to keep it that way. A topsecret memo carrying the news was later rushed to adulthood Washington. By then there had been massive battles throughout Europe; panzer armies had overrun ever more countries. That darn-foolish Brit report could be a danger if it ever got out. He locked it in his safe. What good was the recent past? The beckoning future would be better. The latest laboratory speculations also promised something new and powerful.

E=mc2: Einstein and the World's Most Famous Equation (2005)

Research in the realm of atomic destruction has now proceeded to a point where. It is essential that we be ahead of everybody. In the summer of , early in the month of July, Werner Heisenberg was on top of the world. Heisenberg had a way of standing with shoulders squared straight, in a state of alert excitement, whenever he was pleased.

The call went through, but the rector told him there was a serious problem. This was the sort of public attack that often preceded a late-night arrest and then deportation to a concentration camp. Heisenberg was scared, but also furious. They were picking on the wrong man!

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Heisenberg tried enlisting closest friends to help, but that had no effect. Only when there were no signs of the SS attack letting up did he enlist one more ally, the woman who was closest to him of all: his mother. In August, Mrs.

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Heisenberg went to see Mrs. But we know that we have to care for our boys. That is why I have come to you. Only today can I answer your letter of July 21, , in which you direct yourself to me because of the article of Professor Stark. Because you were recommended by my family I have had your case investigated with special care and precision. I am glad that I can now inform you that I do not approve of the attack. I hope I shall see you in Berlin in the fall, in November or December, so that we may talk things over thoroughly man to man.

With friendly greetings, Heil Hitler! Yours, H. Himmler P. The P.

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Many youngsters grew out of this, but well into his twenties Heisenberg remained drawn to the movement, despite mocking remarks from his more grown-up or liberal colleagues. The Reich was already at war: its artillery and ground troops and air force and panzers successful in Poland. But there might well be greater enemies still to come. Heisenberg had always been an energetic worker, and now he surpassed him- adulthood self.

In February, , he had the full report done, and when a Berlin unit was set up to start building a reactor, in parallel with the work at his home university of Leipzig, he took command of both, regularly commuting between the two cities. It would have been tiring for most men, but Heisenberg was at the peak of his powers. Only a very few atoms had exploded apart then. Heisenberg ordered dozens of pounds of uranium. The uranium was delivered.

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The twist Fermi had found—that there was a great power in using slowed neutrons—could help solve this problem, and get a reaction to begin. Heisenberg searched for the right substance to pro- adulthood duce that useful slowing of the neutrons. Anything that was dense with hydrogen would work to some extent, because the bumpings of neutrons against hydrogen tends to slow the neutrons down.

Heisenberg needed a better moderator.

He knew that around the time when Fermi had been working, a U. Mixed in with it is a variant molecule, slightly heavier. Instead of having ordinary hydrogen at the core, it has deuterium, which is very similar to hydrogen but weighs about twice as much. But heavy water is superb at slowing down high-velocity neutrons.