Posts Tagged ‘Enrico Fermi

02
Dec
08

On This Day, 12-2-2008: Chain Reaction

December 2, 1942

Fermi produces the first nuclear chain reaction

On this day, Enrico Fermi, the Italian-born Nobel Prize-winning physicist, directs and controls the first nuclear chain reaction in his laboratory beneath the bleachers of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, ushering in the nuclear age. Upon successful completion of the experiment, a coded message was transmitted to President Roosevelt: “The Italian navigator has landed in the new world.”

Following on England’s Sir James Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron and the Curies’ production of artificial radioactivity, Fermi, a full-time professor of physics at the University of Florence, focused his work on producing radioactivity by manipulating the speed of neutrons derived from radioactive beryllium. Further similar experimentation with other elements, including uranium 92, produced new radioactive substances; Fermi’s colleagues believed he had created a new “transuranic” element with an atomic number of 93, the result of uranium 92 capturing a neuron while under bombardment, thus increasing its atomic weight. Fermi remained skeptical about his discovery, despite the enthusiasm of his fellow physicists. He became a believer in 1938, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for “his identification of new radioactive elements.” Although travel was restricted for men whose work was deemed vital to national security, Fermi was given permission to leave Italy and go to Sweden to receive his prize. He and his wife, Laura, who was Jewish, never returned; both feared and despised Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Fermi immigrated to New York City–Columbia University, specifically, where he recreated many of his experiments with Niels Bohr, the Danish-born physicist, who suggested the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction. Fermi and others saw the possible military applications of such an explosive power, and quickly composed a letter warning President Roosevelt of the perils of a German atomic bomb. The letter was signed and delivered to the president by Albert Einstein on October 11, 1939. The Manhattan Project, the American program to create its own atomic bomb, was the result.

It fell to Fermi to produce the first nuclear chain reaction, without which such a bomb was impossible. He created a jury-rigged laboratory with the necessary equipment, which he called an “atomic pile,” in a squash court in the basement of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. With colleagues and other physicists looking on, Fermi produced the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction and the “new world” of nuclear power was born.

“Fermi produces the first nuclear chain reaction.” 2008. The History Channel website. 2 Dec 2008, 11:25 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=6398.

On This Day

1804 – Napoleon was crowned emperor of France at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

1823 – U.S. President James Monroe outlined his doctrine opposing European expansion in the Western Hemisphere.

1859 – John Brown, a militant abolitionist, was hanged for his raid on Harper’s Ferry the previous October.

1901 – Gillette patented the first disposable razor.

1917 – During World War I, hostilities were suspended on the eastern front.

1927 – The Ford Motor Company unveiled the Model A automobile. It was the successor to the Model T.

1954 – The U.S. Senate voted to condemn Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy for what it called “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” The censure was related to McCarthy’s controversial investigation of suspected communists in the U.S. government, military and civilian society.

1961 – Cuban leader Fidel Castro declared in a nationally broadcast speech that he was a Marxist-Leninist and that he was going to lead Cuba to communism.

1982 – Doctors at the University of Utah implanted a permanent artificial heart in the chest of retired dentist Barney Clark. He lived 112 days with the device. The operation was the first of its kind.

1995 – NASA launched a U.S.-European observatory on a $1 billion dollar mission intended to study the sun.

2001 – Enron Corp. filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. The filing came five days after Dynegy walked away from a $8.4 billion buyout. It was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

December 2, 1962

Senator Mansfield pronounces American aid to South Vietnam wasted

Following a trip to Vietnam at President John F. Kennedy’s request, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) becomes the first U.S. official to refuse to make an optimistic public comment on the progress of the war. Originally a supporter of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, Mansfield changed his opinion of the situation after his visit. He claimed that the $2 billion the United States had poured into Vietnam during the previous seven years had accomplished nothing. He placed blame squarely on the Diem regime for its failure to share power and win support from the South Vietnamese people. He suggested that Americans, despite being motivated by a sincere desire to stop the spread of communism, had simply taken the place formerly occupied by the French colonial power in the minds of many Vietnamese. Mansfield’s change of opinion surprised and irritated President Kennedy.

“Senator Mansfield pronounces American aid to South Vietnam wasted.” 2008. The History Channel website. 2 Dec 2008, 11:24 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=1527.

16
Jul
08

On This Day, 7-16-08: The Manhattan Project — Alamogordo

Atom bomb successfully tested

On this day in 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the Manhattan Project comes to an explosive end as the first atom bomb is successfully tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Plans for the creation of a uranium bomb by the Allies were established as early as 1939, when Italian emigre physicist Enrico Fermi met with U.S. Navy department officials at Columbia University to discuss the use of fissionable materials for military purposes. That same year, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt supporting the theory that an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction had great potential as a basis for a weapon of mass destruction. In February 1940, the federal government granted a total of $6,000 for research. But in early 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, and fear mounting that Germany was working on its own uranium bomb, the War Department took a more active interest, and limits on resources for the project were removed.

Brigadier-General Leslie R. Groves, himself an engineer, was now in complete charge of a project to assemble the greatest minds in science and discover how to harness the power of the atom as a means of bringing the war to a decisive end. The Manhattan Project (so-called because of where the research began) would wind its way through many locations during the early period of theoretical exploration, most importantly, the University of Chicago, where Enrico Fermi successfully set off the first fission chain reaction. But the Project took final form in the desert of New Mexico, where, in 1943, Robert J. Oppenheimer began directing Project Y at a laboratory at Los Alamos, along with such minds as Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, and Fermi. Here theory and practice came together, as the problems of achieving critical mass-a nuclear explosion-and the construction of a deliverable bomb were worked out.

Finally, on the morning of July 16, in the New Mexico desert 120 miles south of Santa Fe, the first atomic bomb was detonated. The scientists and a few dignitaries had removed themselves 10,000 yards away to observe as the first mushroom cloud of searing light stretched 40,000 feet into the air and generated the destructive power of 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT. The tower on which the bomb sat when detonated was vaporized.

The question now became-on whom was the bomb to be dropped? Germany was the original target, but the Germans had already surrendered. The only belligerent remaining was Japan.

A footnote: The original $6,000 budget for the Manhattan Project finally ballooned to a total cost of $2 billion.

“Atom bomb successfully tested.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Jul 2008, 01:00 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6521.

 

On This Day

1779 – American troops under General Anthony Wayne capture Stony Point, NY.

1791 – Louis XVI was suspended from office until he agreed to ratify the constitution.

1862 – Two Union soldiers and their servant ransacked a house and raped a slave in Sperryville, VA.

1862 – David G. Farragut became the first rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.

1912 – Bradley A. Fiske patented the airplane torpedo.

1918 – Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed by Bolsheviks at Ekaterinburg, Russia.

1926 – The first underwater color photographs appeared in “National Geographic” magazine. The pictures had been taken near the Florida Keys.

1942 – French police officers rounded up 13,000 Jews and held them in the Winter Velodrome. The round-up was part of an agreement between Pierre Laval and the Nazis. Germany had agreed to not deport French Jews if France arrested foreign Jews.

1944 – Soviet troops occupied Vilna, Lithuania, in their drive toward Germany.

1951 – J.D. Salinger’s novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” was first published.

1969 – Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Kennedy, FL, and began the first manned mission to land on the moon.

1979 – Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq after forcing Hasan al-Bakr to resign.

1999 – The plane of John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, MA. His wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, were also on board the plane. The body of John Kennedy was found on July 21, 1999.

 

Congress declares Washington, D.C. new capital

On this day in 1790, the young American Congress declares that a swampy, humid, muddy and mosquito-infested site on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia will be the nation’s permanent capital. “Washington,” in the newly designated federal “District of Columbia,” was named after the leader of the American Revolution and the country’s first president: George Washington. It was Washington who saw the area’s potential economic and accessibility benefits due to the proximity of navigable rivers.

George Washington, who had been in office just over a year when the capital site was determined, asked a French architect and city planner named Pierre L’Enfant to design the capital. In 1793, the first cornerstones of the president’s mansion, which was eventually renamed the “White House,” were laid. George Washington, however, never lived in the mansion as it was not inhabitable until 1800. Instead, President John Adams and his wife Abigail were the White House’s first residents. They lived there less than a year; Thomas Jefferson moved in in 1801.

“Congress declares Washington, D.C. new capital.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Jul 2008, 01:09 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=784.

Senate begins investigations into secret bombing of Cambodia

The Senate Armed Services Committee begins a probe into allegations that the U.S. Air Force made thousands of secret B-52 raids into Cambodia in 1969 and 1970 at a time when the United States recognized the neutrality of the Prince Norodom Sihanouk regime in Cambodia. The Pentagon acknowledged that President Richard Nixon and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird had authorized the raids against Cambodia, but Sihanouk denied the State Department claim that he had requested or authorized the bombing. Though it was established that the bombing records had been falsified, Laird and Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Advisor, denied any knowledge of the falsification. The Senate hearings eventually exposed the extent of the secrecy involved in the bombing campaign and seriously damaged the credibility of the Nixon administration.

“Senate begins investigations into secret bombing of Cambodia.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Jul 2008, 01:05 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=1971.




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