The Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was the code name of the America’s attempt to construct an atomic bomb during World War II. It was named after the Manhattan Engineer District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because a lot of it’s earlier research was done in New York City. An atomic bomb is a weapon that uses the energy from a nuclear reaction called Fission for its destruction.
The idea that mass could be changed into energy was predicted by Albert Einstein in the earlier part of the 1900’s. John D. Cockcroft and Ernest Walton confirmed this by experiments in 1932. Then in 1938, nuclear fission was discovered by German scientists, and it was feared by many of the U.S. scientists, that Hitler would try to build a fission bomb. Three Hungarian-born physicists, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, and Edward Teller asked Albert Einstein to send a letter to Franklin Roosevelt. Compelled by the letter in late 1939, Roosevelt ordered an effort to obtain an atomic weapon before Germany.
At first, this program was led by Vannevar Bush, head of the National Defense Research committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Then it came under control of Leslie Groves of the Army Corps of Engineers. Groves quickly bought a site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, as a place for processing the Uranium-235 from the more common Uranium-238. Uranium-235 is used because it is fissionable, it releases many neutrons, and does not capture many. However, 99.3% of uranium in nature is the U-238 isotope, and only .7% is the lighter, more “fissionable” isotope U-235. Next, he gathered and combined research from many East Coast universities under direction of Arthur Compton, at the University of Chicago. He appointed theoretical physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer as the director of the weapons laboratory, which was built on an isolated mesa located at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
After much work, a porous barrier that could separate the isotopes of uranium was made, and it was installed in the Oak ridge gaseous diffusion plant. In 1945, uranium-235, pure enough for use in a bomb was produce and sent to Los Alamos, where it was made into a gun-type weapon. One small piece of Uranium-235, which was not big enough to hold a chain reaction itself, was fired at another small piece. This was done by means of a explosive charge, inside a cylinder shaped tube, which formed a supercritical mass that exploded instantly. They were so sure that this would work, that they did not even test it. It’s first use was made in military action over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945.
The bomb uses a device called an altimeter to measure how far it is from the ground. It sends out radio frequencies which are bounced back to it. Microchips in the bomb determine how far it still has to fall, and when to detonate. The bombs also have fuses in the front which arm ! the bomb. They are not inserted until the bomb is ready to be launched.
Before this bomb was developed,...