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Yam and Troy the Science Boys – Issue 12

In 1938, a year before the beginning of the second world war, two German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, accidentally discovered nuclear fission. Germany was big into its master race and genocide shit at that time and had the cunning plan to try and develop a weapon to surpass Metal Gear. Albert Einstein being the snitch he was, went straight to the Roosevelt Administration to warn them, and thus the Uranium Committee was formed.


Several years later, the group became the S-1 Committee which researched nuclear weapons.  Once it became apparent that nuclear weapons were not only possible but feasibly realistic, the S-1 Committee sought the help of the United States military to begin development, and the Manhattan Project was born.


The following two stories come from the Los Alamos Laboratory and involve the infamous “Demon Core”. The Demon Core was a sphere of subcritical plutonium. It weighed about 6.2kg and was less than 10cm in diameter. This sphere was relatively safe while undisturbed but did have the potential to reach criticality under certain conditions. Criticality would happen if you were to reflect enough of the Cores inherent neutron radiation into itself.


Harry Daghlian, a young physicist, performed a reflection test alone with a single security guard in proximity. This sentence alone shows what a master intellect Harry was. The experiment involved placing tungsten carbide bricks around the Core, which increased the amount of reflected neutron radiation and brought the Core closer to criticality. What helpful information an experiment like this would have gleaned seems sparse, but apparently, the prospect of being in the same postcode as six kilos of supercritical plutonium wasn’t enough to warrant being careful. He dropped a brick on the Core, it went supercritical, and then he died a month later.  The security guard died 33 years later from leukemia.


I can only assume that Harry was excited about the prospect of nailing another 60 thousand Japanese with a third atomic bomb, as the first incident occurred twelve days after Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki and twelve days before the Japanese surrender. Harry only lived two weeks beyond the end of the war because of his slippery butterfingers. He died an awful death in the hospital, during which time a friend and physicist Louis Slotin comforted him.


Nine months after J. Robert Oppenheimer became death, destroyer of worlds, Louis Slotin was fucking about with the Demon Core. In all his infinite wisdom, this man was unshaken by the death of his friend Harry’s carelessness and decided to double down on tickling the dragon’s tail. Louis was due to depart the Manhattan Project. On his last day, he decided it would be prudent to show his colleagues the wildly irresponsible way to perform the neutron reflection experiment.

The Demon Core now had a semi-sphere shroud that one could lower onto it to induce criticality instead of the bricks that Harry had been using. Usually, the Core would have safety blocks to prevent the shroud from completely enclosing the Core and creating a neutron radiation blast.  Louis decided to fuck the blocks off in favour of two flathead screwdrivers. When one inevitably slipped, there was a blast of blue light before he could undo his mistake. He uttered, “Well, that does it,” and died nine days later from acute radiation poisoning.


The story’s moral is to try and be careful, and screwdrivers are for driving screws and not anything else.


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