The 1940s Science and Technology: Headline Makers

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The 1940s Science and Technology: Headline Makers

Vannevar Bush
Gerty Theresa Cori
Enrico Fermi
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Edward Teller

Vannevar Bush (1890–1974) As head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), Vannevar Bush managed the development of the atomic bomb. He always saw himself as an engineer. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after 1919, he invented the justifying typewriter (a typewriter that can produce documents with straight margins on both sides of the page). Another of his inventions was the differential analyzer, the most important calculating machine of its time. During the 1940s, through the OSRD, Bush helped organize American science for the war effort and made sure atomic research was controlled. He was strongly against the development of the hydrogen bomb.

Gerty Theresa Cori (1896–1957) The first American to receive the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology, Gerty Theresa Cori worked with her husband on research into blood. They moved to the United States in 1922 from Czechoslovakia. The Coris worked together throughout their careers, but Gerty spent many years as a research associate on a token salary. She was given a full faculty post only when she and her husband won the Nobel Prize. Nevertheless, her work on the classification of blood diseases has since been described as "an unmatched scientific achievement."

Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) Winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1938, Enrico Fermi immigrated to the United States from Italy the same year. He joined the Manhattan Project in 1942, and by December of that year he had become the first person to conduct a controlled nuclear chain reaction. Fermi was one of four scientists who advised the government that dropping an atomic bomb on Japan was the only way to end World War II. He continued as an adviser to government on the development and use of nuclear weapons until his death.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967) J. Robert Oppenheimer completed the four-year Harvard University degree program in just three years, graduating in 1925. He became a revered teacher at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1942, Oppenheimer joined the Manhattan Project where he was in charge of solving theoretical problems with the atomic bomb. After the first successful test on July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer quoted from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." In the early 1950s, he was charged with having had leftist friends in the 1930s and refused a government security clearance. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) awarded him the prestigious Fermi Award.

Edward Teller (1908–) Often called the "father of the hydrogen bomb," Edward Teller worked on the Manhattan Project during the 1940s. He was outspoken in his view that the United States should build the hydrogen bomb to counter the Soviet threat. Born in Budapest, Hungary, Teller immigrated to the United States in 1935. He was a key figure in the development of the first plutonium bomb, and he criticized scientists who urged caution in nuclear research. In 1954, he testified against J. Robert Oppenheimer before Congress and thereafter was largely ignored by many scientists.

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The 1940s Science and Technology: Headline Makers