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How did they figure out how to make the atom bomb work?

They spent a lot of money :-) Actually, I have always wondered why it was so difficult to make the bomb work - the main principle is really simple. The idea is that a nucleus that is splitting gives off some neutrons. Some nuclei do this once in a while just naturally, but if there are lots of neutrons around they have a much higher tendency to split, and then produce more neutrons, which can cause more nuclei to split, in a chain reaction leading to an explosion... As soon as you have collected a critical mass of the material (Uranium or Plutonium, for example) you should get an explosion. I guess the hard problems are: (1) NOT getting an explosion until you actually want it (2) NOT getting a wimpy little explosion that blows your material apart before the chain reaction goes very far. Also, it was a tough problem because it is not something you really want to do lots of trial and error on... There are a bunch of interesting books on the beginning of the nuclear age that you could probably find in the library. The U.S. effort was called the "Manhattan project".

Arthur Smith

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