The Manhattan Project: A Journey Between Science and Ethics!

The Manhattan Project, the most secret and influential scientific project of the Second World War, resulted in the creation of a nuclear bomb. Our article describes the leaders of the project, its scientific achievements, and the impact it has left on world history. How did the Manhattan Project start, and which countries participated in the project? Who were the groundbreaking, pioneering names in the field of nuclear physics? In particular, how do basic physics principles such as the discovery and control of nuclear fission work? You will find more information in our article, where we answer all these questions. Don’t forget to take a look at our article, which contains many details, from scientific details about the use of nuclear energy and weapons to the consequences and ethical discussions of the expulsion of Japan, its effects on world peace, and current international efforts!

APA 7: Çarıkçıoğlu, A. E. (2023, November 18). Manhattan Projesi: Bilim ve Etik Arasında Bir Yolculuk! PerEXP Teamworks. [Article Link]

Are you ready to take a trip to one of the most striking and frightening moments in history? The Manhattan Project is the greatest scientific effort humanity has ever experienced, and it is extraordinary. The atomic age was made possible by this enormous initiative, which also altered the course of human history.

The Manhattan Project and its scope

The Manhattan Project was a secret scientific research and engineering project carried out between 1942 and 1945 during World War II in cooperation with the US, Great Britain, and Canada. Its purpose was to develop a nuclear bomb and use it to end the war against the possibility of it falling into German hands.

The project was initiated by the US government, and an atomic bomb was developed to create a powerful explosion using a nuclear fission reaction.

To briefly mention, nuclear fission is the process of splitting a heavy atomic nucleus into two smaller parts by the interaction of a neutron. During this fragmentation, extra neutrons and a large amount of energy are released. Fission reactions are usually carried out with nuclear fuels containing heavy nuclei, such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239.

The most well-known scientists, engineers, and military men of the era put out great effort to realize the Manhattan Project. The headquarters of the project was a secret facility located in Los Alamos, New Mexico. At the end of the project, two nuclear bombs were produced. These bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the surrender of Japan and World War II. It caused the end of World War II.

The Manhattan Project is considered a major turning point in the history of science and nuclear technology, and its effects on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are still being discussed today.

What were its contributions to atomic physics?

A great scientific and technical effort had been made on the Manhattan Project. Great advances have been made in the understanding of physical principles such as nuclear fission, nuclear reactions, and the control of nuclear binding energy. The project has formed the basis for many discoveries and advances in the fields of nuclear energy and physics.

The project has also passed into history as an effort requiring tremendous organization and coordination by involving thousands of people working in a scientific and technical sense. Secret facilities have been built in different parts of the US; scientists and workers working in these facilities have created an environment where information sharing and solidarity are at the highest level.

In the media of the 1940s, it was referred to as the “Event that started the Atomic Age.” Humanity has seen for the first time that it can use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and, at the same time, develop nuclear weapons that have a great power of destruction. This project is a turning point that has permanently changed world politics and security policies.

The beginning of World War II and the rapid progress of Germany were sources of great concern for the United States and its allies. There were some important discoveries and theories made by German scientists on nuclear fission at the beginning of the war. [1]

What happened before and the historical process

Fritz Strassmann, together with Otto Hahn, had described the element barium in December 1938 as “A product of the bombardment of uranium with neutrons.” This observation was accepted and published by Lise Meitner, the first female professors of the University of Berlin, and Otto Frisch and was the basic evidence necessary to describe the state of nuclear fission. In February 1939, Strassmann and Hahn, in their second publication, predicted the presence and release of additional neutrons during the fission process, revealing the possibility of a “Chain nuclear reaction.”

When the dates showed August 2, 1939, a letter written by Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd warned then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the potential of the Germans to develop nuclear weapons. This gave rise to the idea of the US government using nuclear energy for military purposes. [2]

Three years later, the United States launched the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons. On December 2, 1942, the first controlled nuclear chain reaction was carried out at the University of Chicago. The “Chicago Pile-1” reactor, led by Enrico Fermi, provided a controlled fission reaction.

In 1943, the secret laboratory was established in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Robert Oppenheimer was appointed scientific director. Thus, the work on the design and development of the nuclear bomb intensified at Los Alamos.

In the following two years, isotope separation studies focused on methods developed for the purification and enrichment of uranium-235. Fuel production and uranium enrichment plants were established near the Tennessee River in different areas, such as “Oak Ridge”, “Hanford” and “Y-12.”

Finally, the construction of the nuclear bombs called “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” was completed between 1944 and 1945. [3]

The effect that radically ended the war

The Manhattan Project played a critical role in ending the war. In the later stages of the war, the chances of the Allies achieving victory were decreasing, and the prolongation of the war caused millions of people to lose their lives. For this reason, it was intended to surrender Japan by developing a nuclear bomb.

On August 6, 1945, Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later, the other nuclear bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki. These two bombs led to the loss of more than two hundred and twenty thousand lives. [4]

Pioneers of the Atomic Age

There were many important names among the scientists and engineers who were at the beginning of the Manhattan Project. [5]

Robert Oppenheimer: He served as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project. He has assumed a central role at Los Alamos throughout the project.

Enrico Fermi: He was a leading physicist in nuclear physics and held a critical position in the development of nuclear reactors.

Leona Woods: As a nuclear physicist and chemist, she has done crucial work for the project and taken part in the development of nuclear reactors. At 23, she was the youngest and only female member of the team that built and tested the Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor.

Richard Feynman: He participated in the project as a theoretical physicist and made critical contributions. He has worked to determine the amount of uranium needed for critical mass.

Niels Bohr: Along with his son, Aage Bohr, the well-known Danish physicist, participated as a consultant and rose to prominence in the UK portion of the project thanks to his knowledge of nuclear physics and atomic structure.

Chien-Shiung Wu: Chien-Shung, known as the “Chinese Madame Curie,” left her signature on the Manhattan Project by separating uranium into different isotopes.

John von Neumann: As a mathematician and computer science specialist, he has made considerable contributions to the mathematical calculations related to the project.

Arthur Compton: Compton, a Nobel Laureate who participated in the Solvay Conference famous by the scientific community in 1927, took part in the Manhattan Project jointly with his older brother Karl Taylor Compton; he was the head of the Manhattan Metallurgical (Metal Science) Laboratory.

On the way to the project

Essential scientific and technological equipment was used in the development process. [6] Among these equipments were:

  • Electromagnets, which are used in nuclear reactors to enrich nuclear materials such as uranium, have played a noteworthy role throughout the project.
  • Electromagnetic separation methods used for the separation of isotopes have been used in the separation of uranium isotopes.
  • In the project, electromechanical switches played a significant role in computers and other electrical devices.
  • Cryogenic equipment has been important in the development of low-temperature operating systems, nuclear reactors, and other equipment.
  • Nuclear reactors have been used to ensure the fission of nuclear materials and energy production.
  • Electromechanical counters have been used for counting and measuring radioactive particles.

Scientific achievements and its impact on world history

The Manhattan Project has made breakthroughs in controlling nuclear fission and safely directing nuclear reactions. This formed the basis for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and was instrumental in the scientific advances that form the basis of nuclear reactors used for energy production today.

The project has achieved great success in the design and production of nuclear weapons. But at the same time, the use of nuclear weapons posed a permanent threat to world peace and security and led to the beginning of the “Cold War” era.

The Manhattan Project has enabled scientists and engineers to make grand advances in several areas, such as nuclear fission, reactor technology, and the use of radioactive isotopes. The project has made a great contribution to the development of nuclear and radiation sciences, creating a scientific revolution around the world. [7]

Ethical discussions

The dropping of nuclear bombs produced as a result of the project in Japan caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their lives and caused great destruction. These events have caused ethical debates about the targeting of civilians and the use of weapons with the potential for mass destruction.

During the project continuum, some human subjects were used to conduct experiments with radiation. This is a proceeding that raises serious ethical questions and is considered a violation of human rights.

The Manhattan Project was a factor that triggered the nuclear arms race in the world and led to the beginning of the Cold War Era. The mentioned factor posed a serious threat to world peace and security and is still considered an ongoing problem today. [8]

What it left behind

Together with the Manhattan Project, international agreements and regulations covering nuclear arms control and non-proliferation efforts have been implemented today. These agreements aim to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, reduce existing nuclear weapons stockpiles, and promote nuclear disarmament.

Today, nuclear armament and the proliferation of nuclear weapons are two of the important issues that threaten world peace. The international community continues to fight for the reduction of nuclear weapons and the prevention of the nuclear threat. At the same time, studies are being carried out on safe and sustainable methods for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The Manhattan Project was contentious from an ethical standpoint and had a lasting impact on the world, despite being a remarkable success from a scientific and technological standpoint. Today, humanity is struggling with difficult issues such as nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament while searching for ways to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In this context, the historical legacy of the Manhattan Project still has a significant impact on world politics and security.

“I don’t know what weapons might be used in World War III. But there isn’t any doubt what weapons will be used in World War IV: stone spears.”

Albert Einstein – Snopes

It is not known whether humanity will take a path, as Einstein points out in this saying, but each of us should take care to strive “For everyone, for humanity.”

Resources

  1. WEBSITE Metcalfe, T. (2023, July 21). What was the Manhattan Project? Scientific American. [Scientific American]
  2. DICTIONARY ENTRY The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2023, November 7). Manhattan Project | Definition, Scientists, Timeline, Locations, Facts, & Significance. Encyclopedia Britannica. [Brittanica]
  3. WEBSITE Who were the Manhattan Project scientists? (n.d.). Norwich University – Online. [Norwich University]
  4. WEBSITE Scientists & Engineers of the Manhattan Project. (n.d.). Manhattan Project. [Manhattan Project]
  5. JOURNAL Lemmer, R. H. (1966). Nuclear reactions. Reports on Progress in Physics, 29(1), 131–170. Reports on Progress in Physics. [Reports on Progress in Physics]
  6. JOURNAL L’Annunziata, M. F. (2016). Basic concepts and definitions. Handbook of Modern Coating Technologies. [Handbook of Modern Coating Technologies]
  7. BOOK CHAPTER Abrecht, P., Aiungu-Olende, S., Francis, J. M., De Gaspa, D., Nashed, W., Nwosu, B. C. E., Rose, D. J., & Shinn, R. L. (1977). Public Acceptance of Nuclear Power – Some Ethical Issues. In Nuclear power and its fuel cycle proceedings of an International Conference on Nuclear Power and its Fuel Cycle, held by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Salzburg, 2 – 13 May (6th ed., Vol. 19). International Atomic Energy Agency.
  8. BOOK Tsvetkov, P. (2011). Nuclear power: Deployment, Operation and Sustainability. IntechOpen.
  9. WEBSITE Manhattan Projesi (n.d.). Tarihi Olaylar. [Tarihi Olaylar]

This translation was made by Ahmet Ege Çarıkçıoğlu

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