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Posts Tagged ‘atomic bomb

“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”*…


quantum computing

Quantum computing is all the rage. It seems like hardly a day goes by without some news outlet describing the extraordinary things this technology promises. Most commentators forget, or just gloss over, the fact that people have been working on quantum computing for decades—and without any practical results to show for it.

We’ve been told that quantum computers could “provide breakthroughs in many disciplines, including materials and drug discovery, the optimization of complex manmade systems, and artificial intelligence.” We’ve been assured that quantum computers will “forever alter our economic, industrial, academic, and societal landscape.” We’ve even been told that “the encryption that protects the world’s most sensitive data may soon be broken” by quantum computers. It has gotten to the point where many researchers in various fields of physics feel obliged to justify whatever work they are doing by claiming that it has some relevance to quantum computing.

Meanwhile, government research agencies, academic departments (many of them funded by government agencies), and corporate laboratories are spending billions of dollars a year developing quantum computers. On Wall Street, Morgan Stanley and other financial giants expect quantum computing to mature soon and are keen to figure out how this technology can help them.

It’s become something of a self-perpetuating arms race, with many organizations seemingly staying in the race if only to avoid being left behind. Some of the world’s top technical talent, at places like Google, IBM, and Microsoft, are working hard, and with lavish resources in state-of-the-art laboratories, to realize their vision of a quantum-computing future.

In light of all this, it’s natural to wonder: When will useful quantum computers be constructed? The most optimistic experts estimate it will take 5 to 10 years. More cautious ones predict 20 to 30 years. (Similar predictions have been voiced, by the way, for the last 20 years.) I belong to a tiny minority that answers, “Not in the foreseeable future.” Having spent decades conducting research in quantum and condensed-matter physics, I’ve developed my very pessimistic view. It’s based on an understanding of the gargantuan technical challenges that would have to be overcome to ever make quantum computing work…

Michel Dyakonov makes “The Case Against Quantum Computing.”

* Albert Einstein


As we feel the need for speed, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi, working inside an enormous tent on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, achieved the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction… laying the foundation for the atomic bomb and later, nuclear power generation.

“…the Italian Navigator has just landed in the New World…”
– Coded telephone message confirming first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942.

Illustration depicting the scene on Dec. 2, 1942 (Photo copyright of Chicago Historical Society)


Indeed, exactly 15 years later, on this date in 1957, the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, reached criticality; the first power was produced 16 days later, after engineers integrated the generator into the distribution grid of Duquesne Light Company.



Written by LW

December 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Care keeps his watch in every old man’s eye / And where care lodges, sleep will never lie”*…



See also

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


As we keep a stiff upper lip, we might recall that it was on this date in 1952 that Britain became the third country to conduct an atomic bomb test.  Its “Operation Hurricane” was carried out at Monte Bello, Australia, using an improved plutonium implosion bomb similar to the U.S. “Fat Man” (detonated over Nagasaki).  To test the effects of a ship-smuggled bomb (a threat of great concern at the time), Hurricane was exploded inside the hull of the HMS Plym (a 1,450 ton frigate) which was anchored in 40 feet of water 400 yards off shore.  The explosion, 9 feet below the water line, left a saucer-shaped crater on the seabed 20 feet deep and 1,000 feet across.

Hurricane’s mud-laden explosion



Written by LW

October 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Librarians are the secret masters of the world”*…


Interior view of the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos scientific library

If library work was among the most tedious [at Los Alamos], the award for the most unenviable job likely belonged to its head librarian: Charlotte Serber, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, statistician, and freelance journalist who at one point interviewed Frank Lloyd Wright for The Boston Globe.

In 1942, J. Robert Oppenheimer selected Serber to spearhead the project in part because of her lack of librarian experience. He wanted someone who would be willing to bend the rules of cataloguing.

Her appointment was a victory for the women on the Hill. Though women were integral to the success of the Manhattan Project—scientists like Leona Woods and Mary Lucy Miller played central roles in the creation of the bomb—none occupied leadership positions.

In this respect, Serber stood alone. As the head of the scientific library, she became the Manhattan Project’s de facto keeper of secrets, a position that soon saw her targeted for an FBI probe—and almost ended in her being fired from the project…

The remarkable true tale of the woman who dodged accusations of communism, and made the atomic bomb possible: “The Librarian Who Guarded the Manhattan Project’s Secrets.”

* Spider Robinson


As we check it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1687 that Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy),  was published.  Often referred to as simply the Principia, the three-volume work outlines Newton’s laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics; Newton’s law of universal gravitation; and a derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which Kepler first obtained empirically).  This first edition was written in Latin, the universal language of scholarship at the time; an English edition was published in 1728.  It remains one of the most important works in the history of science.

Title page of the first edition



Written by LW

July 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If lightning is the anger of the gods, then the gods are concerned mostly about trees”*…


Lightning strikes around the world– in real time.

* Lao Tzu


As we reach for our rods, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that the U.S. detonated an atomic weapon on a test range in the Yucca Flats in Nevada-a  test of the Air Force’s AIR-2 Genie missile with a nuclear warhead, part of the Plumbbob series, the biggest, longest, and most controversial test series in the continental United States: 29 tests, of which only two failed to detonate.  Exactly seven years later– on this date in 1964– the Soviet Union performed a nuclear test in Eastern Kazakh.



Written by LW

July 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Now, you can continue to protect your home and family even after you are gone”…


The craftsmen at Holy Smoke will take the cremated remains of a loved one and pack them into firearm ammunition:  one pound of human ash yields 250 shotgun shells, 100 rifle cartridges, or 250 pistol cartridges.  The company’s website avers…

The services provided by Holy Smoke are a fraction of the cost of what most funeral burial services cost – oftentimes saving families as much as 75% of traditional costs.

The ecological footprint caused by our service, as opposed to most of the current funeral interment methods, is virtually non-existent.

Now, you can continue to protect your home and family even after you are gone.

Or, as one of the company’s founders suggests in recounting how he conceived the service, one can use the remains to “share the death”:

My friend smiled and said “You know I’ve thought about this for some time and I want to be cremated. Then I want my ashes put into some turkey load shotgun shells and have someone that knows how to turkey hunt use the shotgun shells with my ashes to shoot a turkey. That way I will rest in peace knowing that the last thing that one turkey will see is me, screaming at him at about 900 feet per second.”

[TotH to Gizmodo]


As we aim for the afterlife, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that physicists Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, urging him to begin develop a nuclear weapon.  Their letter was delivered a couple of months later, and led to the formation of the Advisory Committee on Uranium (the “Briggs Uranium Committee”) and ultimately the Manhattan Project.

Einstein and Szilárd (source)


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