The Los Alamos Primer: The First Lectures on How To Build an Atomic Bomb

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9780520075764: The Los Alamos Primer: The First Lectures on How To Build an Atomic Bomb

The classified lectures that galvanized the Manhattan Project scientists—with annotations for the nonspecialist reader and an introduction by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.

In March 1943 a group of young scientists, sequestered on a mesa near Santa Fe, attended a crash course in the new atomic physics. The lecturer was Robert Serber, J. Robert Oppenheimer's protégé, and they learned that their job was to invent the world's first atomic bomb.

Serber's lecture notes, nicknamed the "Los Alamos Primer," were mimeographed and passed from hand to hand, remaining classified for many years. They are published here for the first time, and now contemporary readers can see just how much was known and how terrifyingly much was unknown when the Manhattan Project began. Could this "gadget," based on the newly discovered principles of nuclear fission, really be designed and built? Could it be small enough and light enough for an airplane to carry? If it could be built, could it be controlled?

Working with Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the development of the atomic bomb, Professor Serber has annotated original lecture notes with explanations of the physics terms for the nonspecialist. His preface, an informal memoir, vividly conveys the mingled excitement, uncertainty, and intensity felt by the Manhattan Project scientists. Rhodes's introduction provides a brief history of the development of atomic physics up to the day that Serber stood before his blackboard at Los Alamos. In this edition, The Los Alamos Primer finally emerges from the archives to give a new understanding of the very beginning of nuclear weapons. No seminar anywhere has had greater historical consequences.

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Review:

In April 1943, a young physicist named Robert Serber stood up before a small group of fellow scientists in a laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and, as one attendee later recalled, began to speak in "a hazy, uncertain voice" about the project on which they would all be working. "The object," he said, "is to produce a practical military weapon in the form of a bomb in which the energy is released by a fast neutron chain reaction in one or more of the materials known to show nuclear fission." That mechanism, of course, was the atomic bomb, which a little more than two years later would be used against Japan.

In the following weeks, Serber touched on many themes, racing to an array of chalkboards to scribble complex formulas and equations. Among other things, he addressed how big a bomb would need to be in order to achieve critical mass--between 13.5 centimeters and 9 centimeters, he calculated--and what the probability of premature detonation might be. (It was, he concluded, always a danger.) At the end of the series, his lecture notes, classified as top secret, were gathered and printed for distribution to later cadres of scientists who came to work at Los Alamos. Years after the war they were declassified, and Serber, who died in May of 1997, took the opportunity to reflect on his work and the strange culture of the laboratory, adding postscripts and other commentary reproduced in the present edition.

Serber's book is an important document in the history of science, and remains one of the most accessible introductions to nuclear physics ever written. (On that note, those who worry that it is all too easy to find bomb-building instructions in the library or on the Web should rest assured: these lectures were tough for the greatest theoretical physicists of the time to follow.) It all makes for provocative reading. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

In April 1943, at a new secret laboratory on a mesa in the high New Mexican desert, a crowd of the most brilliant young scientists in America heard five stunning lectures that summed up everything the world knew about how to build an atomic bomb. The lecturer was Robert Serber, a theoretical physicist and protege of J. Robert Oppenheimer; the laboratory was Los Alamos. Serber's lectures, assembled in note form and mimeographed, became the legendary LA-1, the Los Alamos Primer, the first document passed out to new recruits to the wartime enterprise, classified Secret Limited for twenty years after the Second World War and published here for the first time. Now contemporary readers can see just how much was known and how much remained to be learned when the Manhattan Project began. Would the "gadget", the atomic bomb, really work? How powerful would it be? Could it be made small enough and light enough to carry in a bomber? Could its explosive nuclear reaction be controlled? Working with Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the development of the atomic bomb, Professor Serber has annotated the Primer for the nonscientist. His preface, a lively informal memoir, vividly conveys the mingled excitement, uncertainty, and intensity the Manhattan Project scientists felt. Rhodes's introduction reviews the development of nuclear physics up to the day that Serber stood before his blackboard at Los Alamos and summarizes the work that followed. In this first published edition, the Los Alamos Primer finally emerges from the archives. No lectures anywhere have had greater historical consequences.

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Robert Serber
Editorial: University of California Press, United States (1992)
ISBN 10: 0520075765 ISBN 13: 9780520075764
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Descripción University of California Press, United States, 1992. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. This work features the classified lectures that galvanized the Manhattan Project scientists - with annotations for the nonspecialist reader and an introduction by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. In March 1943 a group of young scientists, sequestered on a mesa near Santa Fe, attended a crash course in the new atomic physics. The lecturer was Robert Serber, J. Robert Oppenheimer s protege, and they learned that their job was to invent the world s first atomic bomb. Serber s lecture notes, nicknamed the Los Alamos Primer , were mimeographed and passed from hand to hand, remaining classified for many years. They are published here for the first time, and now contemporary readers can see just how much was known and how terrifyingly much was unknown when the Manhattan Project began. Could this gadget , based on the newly discovered principles of nuclear fission, really be designed and built? Could it be small enough and light enough for an airplane to carry? If it could be built, could it be controlled? Working with Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the development of the atomic bomb, Professor Serber has annotated original lecture notes with explanations of the physics terms for the nonspecialist. His preface, an informal memoir, vividly conveys the mingled excitement, uncertainty, and intensity felt by the Manhattan Project scientists. Rhodes introduction provides a brief history of the development of atomic physics up to the day that Serber stood before his blackboard at Los Alamos. In this edition, The Los Alamos Primer finally emerges from the archives to give a new understanding of the very beginning of nuclear weapons. No seminar anywhere has had greater historical consequences. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780520075764

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Descripción University of California Press, United States, 1992. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. This work features the classified lectures that galvanized the Manhattan Project scientists - with annotations for the nonspecialist reader and an introduction by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. In March 1943 a group of young scientists, sequestered on a mesa near Santa Fe, attended a crash course in the new atomic physics. The lecturer was Robert Serber, J. Robert Oppenheimer s protege, and they learned that their job was to invent the world s first atomic bomb. Serber s lecture notes, nicknamed the Los Alamos Primer , were mimeographed and passed from hand to hand, remaining classified for many years. They are published here for the first time, and now contemporary readers can see just how much was known and how terrifyingly much was unknown when the Manhattan Project began. Could this gadget , based on the newly discovered principles of nuclear fission, really be designed and built? Could it be small enough and light enough for an airplane to carry? If it could be built, could it be controlled? Working with Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the development of the atomic bomb, Professor Serber has annotated original lecture notes with explanations of the physics terms for the nonspecialist. His preface, an informal memoir, vividly conveys the mingled excitement, uncertainty, and intensity felt by the Manhattan Project scientists. Rhodes introduction provides a brief history of the development of atomic physics up to the day that Serber stood before his blackboard at Los Alamos. In this edition, The Los Alamos Primer finally emerges from the archives to give a new understanding of the very beginning of nuclear weapons. No seminar anywhere has had greater historical consequences. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780520075764

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Descripción University of California Press. Hardback. Estado de conservación: new. BRAND NEW, The Los Alamos Primer: The First Lectures on How to Build an Atomic Bomb, Robert Serber, Richard Rhodes, This work features the classified lectures that galvanized the Manhattan Project scientists - with annotations for the nonspecialist reader and an introduction by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. In March 1943 a group of young scientists, sequestered on a mesa near Santa Fe, attended a crash course in the new atomic physics. The lecturer was Robert Serber, J. Robert Oppenheimer's protege, and they learned that their job was to invent the world's first atomic bomb. Serber's lecture notes, nicknamed the "Los Alamos Primer", were mimeographed and passed from hand to hand, remaining classified for many years. They are published here for the first time, and now contemporary readers can see just how much was known and how terrifyingly much was unknown when the Manhattan Project began. Could this 'gadget', based on the newly discovered principles of nuclear fission, really be designed and built? Could it be small enough and light enough for an airplane to carry? If it could be built, could it be controlled? Working with Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the development of the atomic bomb, Professor Serber has annotated original lecture notes with explanations of the physics terms for the nonspecialist. His preface, an informal memoir, vividly conveys the mingled excitement, uncertainty, and intensity felt by the Manhattan Project scientists. Rhodes' introduction provides a brief history of the development of atomic physics up to the day that Serber stood before his blackboard at Los Alamos. In this edition, "The Los Alamos Primer" finally emerges from the archives to give a new understanding of the very beginning of nuclear weapons. No seminar anywhere has had greater historical consequences. Nº de ref. de la librería B9780520075764

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Descripción University of California Press 3/2/1992, 1992. Hardback or Cased Book. Estado de conservación: New. Los Alamos Primer: First Lectures How to Build Atomic Bomb. Book. Nº de ref. de la librería BBS-9780520075764

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