Prof’s work central to atomic bomb’s creation

by Aug. 8,

“We must remember that Japan can end the atomic bombing in a moment by surrender; the destruction caused by such bombing is not wanton,” said George P. Conger, professor and chairman of the philosophy department, yesterday in commenting on the ethics of using the latest and most devastating war weapon.
“Discovery of the bomb has pushed the human race to the crossroads: in one direction — oblivion; in the other — a super-modern world.
“In a world where atomic bombs are possible, civilization needs a counter-balance against the possibility of utter destruction,” Dr. Conger said. “On the student and his age rests this choice and challenge.
“One thing could be more terrifying than this discovery; to have to fight another war for the same reasons with a new weapon that could spell utter destruction to mankind.
“Human life at this moment seems incredibly cheap,” Dr. Conger added. “Our efforts to build institutions and civilizations are worthless when with one stroke everything of value could be wiped out.”
Alfred C. Nier, 34-year-old University physics professor now on leave, may not have known it, but he declared war on Japan back in 1940.
That’s the year he isolated “U-235,” the rare uranium isotope which has been utilized in the powerful atom bomb first used against Japan on Sunday.
What Dr. Nier did was to isolate and concentrate the isotope in sufficient quantities so that it could be experimented on.
“The big problem,” J. William Buchta, professor and chairman of physics, claimed, “is to collect enough of the isotope because only about 1 percent of the uranium ore available is U-235.”
Isotopes are atoms of any substance that have the same characteristics as other atoms except a difference in weight. The usual uranium atom has an atomic weight of 238, the heaviest element known.
“One of the properties of U-235 is that its nucleus breaks into two equal parts and in so doing releases terrific energy. This energy is what is used in the atomic bombs,” Dr. Buchta said.
“The effects of the bomb would be hard to estimate,” Dr. Buchta declared, “but it has been said that in New Mexico a test bomb was dropped from a steel tower and it disintegrated the tower, created a huge crater and knocked people down for miles around.”
Destructive power of the 200-pound bomb has been compared to 2,000 11-ton British “earthquake” bombs.
The advantage of the smaller atom bomb is that one plane can carry bombs equal to the force of a 100-plane B29 raid.
“I presume the bomb is effective or it would not have been announced as an atom bomb,” Dr. Buchta concluded. “I think it probable that similar heavier raids will be made.”
Dr. Nier was born in St. Paul and educated in public schools there and at the University where he received his Ph.D. He left the University after his discovery to do secret government research.
Dr. Buchta said Dr. Nier may return to the University January 1, but would continue atomic research for the government.