• Question: Do you think that Albert Einsteins theory of relativity (a large amount of energy could be released from a small amount of matter) helped make the atomic bomb and how ?

    Asked by zoha to Ant, Dan, Matt, Mike, Steph on 16 Mar 2012.
    • Photo: Dan Veal

      Dan Veal answered on 16 Mar 2012:

      I better leave this one to one of the physicists, but Einstein revolutionized, well, almost everything in physics. Here’s a story:

      In 1905 he published 5 separate science papers (his theory of relativity was part of that, but there was loads of other stuff as well, e=mc^2 is only the beginning), each of which was groundbreaking.

      If anyone else had published just ONE of those papers after a lifetime’s worth of work, they would still be famous today. But he, he did 5 of them in one single year, and that was when he was still relatively young, long before the atomic bomb. The man was mindblowing.

      You can imagine it’s like a band releasing 5 separate songs in the same year and every one of them still being in the top 40 in the charts 100 years later.

    • Photo: Matt Maddock

      Matt Maddock answered on 16 Mar 2012:

      Well – there’s no question really that they helped. All of nuclear energy technology, from the fission reactors that produce power for the National Grid, to the fancy, futuristic fusion reactors that scientists ad engineers are trying to make work at the moment, even to atomic bombs, work because of that energy being released from a small amount of matter.

      You’ve probably heard of the famous equation E=mc^2 – that’s the equation that explains it. E is the energy released, m is the mass destroyed and c is the speed of light. c is a huge number – 300,000,000 m/s – so when you square it, that is multiply it by itself, you get a MASSIVE result.

      A nuclear reaction works by using special types of heavy metal atoms which, when you put energy into them, split into two less-heavy types of metal…but the secret is that the mass of those two types of less heavy metal doesn’t quite add up to the mass of the atom you started with. The difference between the two values is the mass that gets turned into energy in that equation above.

      It’s important to remember, though, that the scientists – even Einstein – who came up with the science of nuclear power and E=mc^2 didn’t do it thinking of bombs. They just wanted to find out how the universe works.

    • Photo: Anthony Hollingsworth

      Anthony Hollingsworth answered on 17 Mar 2012:

      yes it helped. not on purpose though! Einstein meant it as an observation of nature, not to be used as a weapon! it is the principle on which the whole thing was based, but building a bomb is very very complicated. most of the problems are engineering more than physics as its actually very very hard to purify uranium and even then its still hard to make it go bang so einstein was a minor contributor really. the guy who made the biggest contribution would be a chemist whos name i cant remember who developed enrichment by uranium hexafluoride through membranes