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E. O. Lawrence and Nuclear Research

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Abstract

In the early days of nuclear research, even the very greatest scientific minds scoffed at the idea that there might be usable energy inside the atom. The legendary Ernest Rutherford, for one, known for his theory of the disintegration of nuclei into two elements, ridiculed the idea in a Herald Tribune article of September 12,1933, saying, “The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine.”1 Very soon, Rutherford would have to swallow such sentiments. One of the giants of physics who would soon obliterate Rutherford’s skepticism was another “Ernest,” the eminent Ernest O. Lawrence.

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Endnotes

  1. 1.
    This famous quote is reproduced in “Physics in the Great Depression,” Charles Weiner, Physics Today, October 1970, who quotes from the Herald Tribune of September 12, 1933.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Luis W. Alvarez, “Alfred Lee Loomis—the Last Great Amateur of Science,” Physics Today, January 1982.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    E. O. Lawrence to Linus Pauling, October 3, 1947, Archives of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cablegram from Lawrence to Pauling, November 5,1954, Archives of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Lawrence discusses the cyclotron in E. O. Lawrence and M. S. Livingston, “Production of High Speed Ions,” The Physical Review, 1932, 42:20–35; at the end of this paper, Lawrence mentions the possibility of stronger cyclotrons with guarded optimism.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Lawrence to Gamow, December 27,1933, as quoted by Mark L. Oliphant, The Two Ernests—I,” Physics Today, September/October 1966.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Lawrence to Cockcroft, personal letter of Jan 12,1924, in Mark L. Oliphant, “The Two Ernests—I,” Physics Today, September/October 1966.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Lise Meitner and O. R. Frisch, “Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction,” Nature, 1939, 143:239f; interestingly, the authors claim that the entire fission process can be described using only classical physics.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See E. O. Lawrence, ‘Amateur of the Sciences,” Fortune, March 1946.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See I. Joliot-Curie and J. Joliot-Cure, ‘A New Type of Radioactivity,” Comptes Rendus, 1934, p. 198.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See Chamberlin, Segrè, Wiegand, and Ypsilantis, ‘Antiprotons,” Nature, 1956,177, where the authors confidently predict having found the antiproton, saying it is a “virtual certainty that the antineutron exists.”Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lawrence to Rutherford, March 1936, as quoted in Mark L. Oliphant, “The Two Ernests—II,” Physics Today, September/October 1966.Google Scholar

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© Anthony Serafini 1993

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