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The Manhattan Project Essay

2030 words - 9 pages

The Manhattan ProjectOn the morning of August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber named EnolaGay flew over the industrial city of Hiroshima, Japan and dropped thefirst atomic bomb ever. The city went up in flames caused by theimmense power equal to about 20,000 tons of TNT. The project was asuccess. They were an unprecedented assemblage of civilian, andmilitary scientific brain power--brilliant, intense, and young, thepeople that helped develop the bomb. Unknowingly they came to anisolated mountain setting, known as Los Alamos, New Mexico, to designand build the bomb that would end World War 2, but begin seriouscontroversies concerning its sheer power and destruction. I becameinterested in this topic ...view middle of the document...

Physicists from 1939 onward conducted much research to findanswers to such questions as how many neutrons were emitted in eachfission, which elements would not capture the neutrons but wouldmoderate or reduce their velocity , and whether only the lighter andscarcer isotope of uranium (U-235) fissioned or the common isotope(U-238) could be used. They learned that each fission releases a fewneutrons. A chain reaction, therefore, was theoretically possible, ifnot too many neutrons escaped from the mass or were captured byimpurities. To create this chain reaction and turn it into a usableweapon was the ultimate goal of the Manhattan Project.In 1942 General Leslie Groves was chosen to lead the project,and he immediately purchased a site at Oak Ridge, Tenn., forfacilities to separate the necessary uranium-235 from the much morecommon uranium-238. Uranium 235 was an optimal choice for the bombbecause of its unusually unstable composition. Thus, the race toseparate the two began. During that time, the work to perfect thefiring mechanism and structure of the bomb was also swiftly underway.General Groves' initial task had been to select a scientificdirector for the bomb project. His first two choices, Ernest O.Lawrence, director of the electromagnetic separation project, andArthur H. Compton, director of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, werenot available. Groves had some doubts regarding the next bestcandidate, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Wood 2). Finally, Groves gambledon Oppenheimer, a theoretical mathematician, as director of theweapons laboratory, built on an isolated mesa (flat land area) at LosAlamos, New Mexico.After much difficulty, an absorbent barrier suitable forseparating isotopes of uranium was developed and installed in the OakRidge gaseous diffusion plant. Finally, in 1945, uranium-235 of bombpurity was shipped to Los Alamos, where it was fashioned into agun-type weapon. In a barrel, one piece of uranium was fired atanother, together forming a supercritical, explosive mass. To achievechain-reaction fission, a certain amount of fissile material, calledcritical mass, is necessary. The fissile material used in theHiroshima model was uranium 235. In the bomb, the uranium was dividedinto two parts, both of which were below critical mass. The bomb wasdesigned so that one part would be slammed into the other by anexplosive device to achieve critical mass ineztaneously (Badash238). When critical mass is achieved, continuous fission (a chainreaction) takes place in an extremely short period of time, and farmore energy is released than in the case of a gun-powder explosion(Badash 238). On December 2, 1942, the first self-sustaining chainreaction with cadmium took place, overseen by Enrico Fermi, in theUniversity of Chicago squash fields (Asimov 783).Another type of atomic bomb was also constructed using thesynthetic element plutonium. Fermi built a reactor at Chicago in late1942, the prototype of five production reactors erected at Hanford,Wash. These...

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