Marvin Goldberger, Always Called “Murph”: Part I

The day before Thanksgiving, Murph Goldberger died.  He was old, he’d been born in 1922; and in those nine decades, he’d collected an extraordinary amount of life.  He was drafted right out of college into the Manhattan Project’s brilliant and very young Special Engineering Detachment, where he met his wife, Mildred; and ever after if […]

Johnny and Oppie

Physicists, like the ancient Greeks, like to gossip about their gods.  A few days ago, three physicists* were talking on Twitter** about a review by a fourth physicist, Freeman Dyson, of a biography of one of these gods, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and about his war with another one, John Archibald Wheeler. Physicist #1: Oppenheimer did […]

A. Wellerstein & the Death of a Patent Clerk

Alex Wellerstein is an historian of science at the American Institute of Physics with an obsession about the atomic bomb and in particular, about the patents taken out on it.  Patents on the atomic bomb seem odd: apparently the government wanted to be sure it owned the rights, and not the “private contractors, private scientists, […]

Farm Hall: the Fall into Failure

You probably know this.  In August, 1939, Einstein wrote a letter to the American government.  German scientists had announced that the energy holding an atom together could be released – in fact, 2.2 pounds-worth of uranium atoms would equal 10,000 tons of TNT.  Einstein said this implied a new kind of bomb that Hitler’s government […]