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How matter’s hidden complexity unleashed the power of nuclear physics

April 8, 2021

How matter’s hidden complexity unleashed the power of nuclear physics

Whereas atomic bombs are based on nuclear fission, H-bombs harness nuclear fusion, the melding of atomic nuclei, in conjunction with fission, resulting in much larger blasts. And on July 16, 1945, at about 5:30 a.m., scientists led by J. Robert Oppenheimer detonated the first atomic bomb, in the New Mexico desert — the Trinity test. When asked, decades later, why he had not predicted the positron after he first formulated his equation, Dirac replied, “pure cowardice.” Still, during the early 20th century, physicists were investigating a few puzzles of matter that would, after some hesitation, inevitably lead to new particles. Meanwhile, American physicist Carl Anderson of Caltech, independent of Dirac’s work, was using a device called a cloud chamber to study cosmic rays, energetic particles originating in space. Hahn and a third member of the team, chemist Fritz Strassmann, continued the work, corresponding from afar with Meitner, who had landed in Sweden. Editor Watson Davis proposed “positron” in a telegram to Anderson, who had independently considered the moniker, according to a 1933 Science News Letter article (SN: 2/25/33, p. 115).

Article from Science News Magazine.