Every time we go to Santa Fe I am reminded of one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time that occurred at nearby Los Alamos. The Manhattan Project with the resultant development of the atomic bomb has to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. This project ushered in the nuclear age. Even though the resultant bomb hangs over us like the Sword of Damocles this was; nevertheless, a crowning achievement in the history of science and of mankind.
Each year when we are in Santa Fe I think a lot about this phenomenal project and read a little more about it. I have always loved physics and I think I know enough to construct a bomb if I had the necessary fissionable material. That’s the rub. Acquiring enough U235 or Plutonium to create a chain reaction is no easy task and is something Iran is currently trying to do. The construction of the bomb is otherwise fairly easy. It takes tons of U238 ore to yield a tablespoon of U235.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, a true genius, was the mastermind of the Manhattan Project and is the father of the atomic bomb. I’m currently reading a book about his life. He completed Harvard in three years then got his PhD at age 22. He never even took a course of physics as an undergraduate and was admitted to graduate studies in physics because of his knowledge through independent study. He could speak multiple languages and was a true intellect. His other great love was camping in the mountains of northern New Mexico where his family owned a ranch. His love for that country is one of the reasons the remote area of Los Alamos was chosen to build the bomb in secret.
The Manhattan Project could never be pulled off today. It was one of the great top-secret projects of all time. The press and Congress didn’t know about it and even Vice–President Harry Truman was unaware of the project until Roosevelt died. Oppenheimer had unlimited resources and the very brightest minds in science came together at this remote outpost with a highly focused purpose; to build the bomb and end the war. Can you imagine that happening today? The news media would be all over it and there would be massive demonstrations against the project. It would be the subject of constant debate in Congress with Oppenheimer and the other scientist spending most of their time testifying on Capitol Hill. World War II would still be going on or we would have lost most of the young men in the US trying to invade mainland Japan.
What we need today is another Manhattan project to develop a new energy source and end our dependence on the Middle East. The news media, Congress, Oil Company Executives and the business tycoons don’t need to know anything about it. Just the top scientific brains with unlimited resources, shut up in a remote spot like the mountains of New Mexico, is what we need to achieve another scientific miracle of a magnitude even greater than the bomb.
Poor Oppenheimer is now considered the American Prometheus. He was considered the scientific genius of all time after the bomb and even became Einstein’s boss at Princeton. His life ended in tragedy. He was like the Greek God Prometheus. Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to man. For this, he was punished by Zeus. Oppenheimer stole something as powerful as fire. During the McCarthy investigations in the 50’s, Oppenheimer was accused of having communist leanings because of his left wing beliefs in the 1930’s. Even though this was false he lost his job and secret clearance. He was destroyed and never recovered from these accusations. He died of throat cancer at age 63.
I sure wish we had another Oppenheimer to conduct another Manhattan Project to solve the energy problem. From my reading on the porch, I figure Oppenheimer already made the discovery when he invented the bomb. It’s called nuclear energy, but we are too stupid and controlled by the wrong people to put it to use. We don’t know how to use the gift of energy from God given to us through Oppenheimer. We still handle it in its most evil form like so many of the other gifts from God.