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December 2014
 1Licorne nuclear test
There are thousands of photographs of mushroom clouds — so why do we always see the same ones?
November 2014
14Unmaking the Bomb model
Experiments in representing the atomic bomb and the substances that fuel it.
10Louis Slotin and Herb Lehr at the assembly of the Trinity "Gadget." Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory Archives, photo TR-229.
The Trinity and Fat Man atomic bombs were powered primarily by plutonium — but not exclusively.
October 2014
17Mugshots of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Source: Library of Congress.
Can one empathize with the spies who never confess?
16Wellerstein - Laser fusion talk
News and Notes
A public lecture on how laser fusion came to be, and the unique classification problems it posed for the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1960s and 1970s.
September 2014
26Sollinger's IAEA emblem
The impressive ugliness that almost became the emblem of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
22This map gives a rough indication of the methodology used to construct the casualty estimates for a Little Boy bomb targeted on World War II Tokyo. Percentages are expected average fatality rates. The actual method used (see below) used many more gradations of difference. One can see, though, the way in which the most intense of the effects of the atomic bomb are highly localized relative to the total size of Tokyo.
How many people would have died if an atomic bomb had been dropped on Tokyo in early 1945, instead of firebombs? And why does it matter?
 5Manhattan District History - Book 2 - Vol 5 - cover
When the head of the Manhattan Project had questions about the history of the atomic bomb, he had a special, secret place to look for answers.
August 2014
22Yahata/Yawata target map, March 1945. Kokura arsenal is visible to the east. Source: Click here for the uncropped, unadjusted version.
The original target for the second atomic bomb was Kokura, not Nagasaki. Why was Kokura spared? Three theories are considered.
 8Target map of Kyoto, June 1945, with atomic bomb aiming point indicated. This image is a composite of eight separate microfilm images from two maps (Kyoto North and Kyoto South) that I stitched together in Photoshop.
Did Truman fundamentally misunderstand the atomic bomb because of a debate over its use?
July 2014
25How much of tactical nuclear weapons was just swagger? Above, the Davy Crockett weapons system, in full-swagger mode.
Would the bomb have won the war? A JASON report on the question from 1967 explores the limits of tactical nuclear weapons.
News and Notes
There's never a right time to lose a secret H-bomb document. But for John Archibald, there might not have been a worse time than early January 1953.
11Feynman smear
Richard Feynman's FBI file contains one very pointed, personal, anonymous attack. But can we figure out who wrote it from the context?
June 2014
27A postwar re-creation of the genesis of the Einstein-Szilard letter.
How important was Albert Einstein's work or personal intervention to the making of the atomic bomb? Not as important as most people think.
 6High resolution detail of Feynman's Los Alamos security badge photograph. A this resolution you can see a lot more strain on his face than the one I posted awhile back. Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory Archives.
Most of Feynman's stories about the bomb are about his hijinks. But what did he really do on the Manhattan Project, and what did he think about the bomb?
May 2014
23Krishna revealing himself to Arjuna. Source.
What did Oppenheimer mean when he famously said, "Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds"? A foray into the Bhagavad-Gita.
16Stevens Institute of Technology
News and Notes
I'm going to be changing jobs this summer, starting as a professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in the NYC area.
16Leo Szilard at the University of Chicago in 1954. Source.
Leo Szilard conceived of the nuclear chain reaction 5 years before fission was discovered. What was he really thinking, and why didn't anyone listen?
April 2014
18How do you service a Titan II? Very carefully. This is a RFHCO suit, required for being around the toxic fuel and oxidizer. Not the most comfortable of outfits. From Penson's Titan II Handbook.
A review of Eric Schlosser's new book, Command and Control, and thoughts on why the history of nuclear weapons accidents is hard to write.
March 2014
28Harold Agnew with plutonium core redacted
What color was the box they kept the plutonium core in? A small digression on the fact that we can't see past events like those who lived through them did.
12Click to enlarge.
A remarkable Army map from 1945 superimposes the effects of the ruinous firebombing campaign against Japan on the continental United States.
 7"Even rats wouldn't survive the blue, luminescent radioactive dust. Vultures would be poisoned by their own appetites."
A rare find: science fiction giant John Campbell wrote about dirty bombs and U-235 in the summer of 1941.
February 2014
28A medical inspection of a Marshallese woman by an American doctor. "Project 4," the biomedical effects program of Operation Castle was initially to be concerned with "mainly neutron dosimetry with mice" but after the accident an additional group, Project 4.1, was added to study the long-term exposure effects in human beings — the Marshallese. Image source.
What is the legacy of the Castle Bravo nuclear test? How do we assess the human costs of the arms race?
14Szilard glasses 1960 LIFE
In a short story published in 1949, Leo Szilard contemplated how well he and President Truman would fare at a war crimes tribunal. His conclusion: not well.
 7Nagasaki film still
The original, unedited, raw, silent footage of the Nagasaki bombing.
January 2014
31Sculpture of Andrei, Sakharov by Peter Shapiro, outside the Russia House Club & Restaurant on Connecticut Ave in Washington, DC. Image source.
How the wonderful, terrible display of the first Soviet hydrogen bomb changed Andrei Sakharov's views on the responsibility of scientists.
17Lewisite identification poster from World War II.
Los Alamos wasn't the first time that scientists retreated to secret labs.
 6"Any books on atomic power?" From the New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1945.
The year in nuclear history scholarship.
December 2013
27A photograph of an early Hanford reactor that used to be in the Hanford DDRS — one of my favorites, both because of its impressive communication of activity and scale.
Why did three major DOE historical databases go offline in late 2013?
23The components of the B-61 nuclear weapon — the warhead is the bullet-shape in the mid-left. The B-61 was designed for flexibility, not miniaturization, but it's still impressive that it could get 20X the Hiroshima bomb's output out of that garbage-can sized warhead.
By looking at the trends of yield-to-weight ratios, we can peel back the veil just a tiny bit on nuclear weapons design trends.
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