Frederick Soddy and the World Set Free

September 13, 2020

In the novel Holsten discovers a new element named carolinium that could be induced to release the energy locked within its atoms. This opened the door to military applications, bombs of hitherto inconceivable destructive power, atomic bombs, as Wells calls them in the first ever use of this term. Although Wells’s method of delivery for the new weapons was of its time—they were lobbed over the side of aircraft by intrepid airmen, as depicted on the front cover of the American edition—the novel would prove uncannily accurate about future developments of nuclear weapons and their military consequences.

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Waltzing with Magic Numbers

September 10, 2020

Goeppert-Mayer published her explanation of nuclear magic numbers in 1949. Later that year an identical model was published by three German physicists Johannes Hans Jensen, Otto Haxel, and Hans Suess. In 1963 Goeppert-Mayer became the second woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, sharing half the prize with Jensen.

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Nuclear Time Shift

September 3, 2020

In 1995 the Oxford Archaeological Unit decided to see whether Optical Stimulated Luminescence Dating would settle the debate about the White Horse of Uffington. The horse has been cleaned and maintained by many generations of local people, so samples were taken from the lowest disturbed layers of the chalk.

When the results came back they were a surprise to everyone. The white horse is much older than had been imagined. The laboratory analysis revealed that the chalk horse was originally dug some time between 1400 BC and 600 BC, so 3000 years ago plus or minus 400 years. This places its construction some time in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, making it easily the oldest chalk figure in England.

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Rutherford this is Transmutation!

August 26, 2020

Soddy discovered that no sooner had he removed the radon gas from his thorium sample that the radon would reappear. It was as though thorium was continually giving birth to the emanation as it emitted radiation. Then he found that the emanation was generating another new radioactive substance that was deposited on the walls of the glass vessel in which it was being collected. Soddy was stunned when he understood what was was happening: Rutherford, this is transmutation!

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William Ramsay’s Noble Quest

August 21, 2020

Ramsay had not just discovered one or two new elements, he had appended an entire new Group to the Periodic Table. In 1904 Ramsay became the first Briton to receive a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

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Beyond the Alchemists’ Wildest Dreams

August 15, 2020

All this alchemical magic produces a potion that is more valuable than gold and has saved more lives than the philosopher’s stone or the elixir of life.

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Scrap Metal from the Proton Merry-Go-Round

August 11, 2020

Lawrence’s machines would project Berkeley into the position of world leaders in the creation of artificial elements, stretching the outer edges of the Periodic Table beyond uranium. It is rather surprising therefore that the first new element created in one of Lawrence’s machines in Berkeley was actually tracked down ten thousand kilometres away by an intrepid Italian who knew the value of good piece of scrap metal when he saw it.

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Atom Heart Mother

August 6, 2020

The advantage of a plutonium-238 battery is that it would outlast the patient and never need to be replaced. There are still a few people walking around with a tiny quantity of plutonium in their chest. But today’s cardiac pacemakers are usually fitted with conventional lithium-ion chemical batteries and have to be replaced every ten years or so.

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Henry Moseley and the Nuclear Treasure Chest

July 30, 2020

Moseley’s brilliant experimental work had shown that the nucleus of an atom carries a charge that is a multiple of the charge on the hydrogen nucleus. This multiple is known as the atomic number. And he had conclusively demonstrated that the elements should be ordered by atomic number not atomic mass. 

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The Atomic Bomb Ring

July 25, 2020

Incredibly, the Atomic Bomb Ring really did allow the children of the atomic age to witness the decay of atomic nuclei as they munched their breakfast cereal. Attached to the ring was a bullet-shaped capsule that separated into two halves. As the advert says, one half contained a secret message compartment, but the other half ‘the warhead’ contained a hidden atom chamber. This silver chamber was a device invented four decades earlier by renowned British physicist Sir William Crookes.

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