Shane and Rod take a trip into atomic fission history as they discuss the events and people leading up to the initial discovery that uranium nuclei could be broken, releasing vast quantities of energy. In just a few short years, a small number of physicists and chemists, mostly European and working with tiny research budgets, determined a new model for atomic structure, found a particle called the neutron that could serve as an effective wedge, and realized that one of the natural products released in the splitting process was enough neutrons to keep the reaction going.
These people, with names like Fermi, Curie, Hahn, Meitner, Strassman, Frisch, Szilard, and Teller made a profound discovery that opened up an entirely new field of study and soon led to the creation of a large and potentially huge energy industry. Rod and Shane contrast the rapid rate of development with the furor that surrounded the announcement of cold fusion in the 1990s – an announcement that led to lots of excitement but no experimental confirmation by outside scientists or engineers.
One key thing to take away from this show is just how recently this development took place – some of the direct participants have only recently passed away and there are many people still alive today who were alive when the discoveries occurred.