Atomic Adventures PDF Ç Atomic Adventures PDF \

Atomic Adventures ☉ [PDF / Epub] ☆ Atomic Adventures By James Mahaffey ❤ – Whether you are a scientist or a poet, pronuclear energy or staunch opponent, conspiracy theorist or pragmatist, James Mahaffey's books have served to open up the world of nuclear science like never b Whether you are a scientist or a poet, pronuclear energy or staunch opponent, conspiracy theorist or pragmatist, James Mahaffey's books have served to open up the world of nuclear science like never before With clear explanations of some of the most complex scientific endeavors in history, Mahaffey's new book looks back at the atom's wild, secretive past and then toward its potentially bright futureMahaffey unearths lost reactors on far flung Pacific islands and trees that were exposed to active fission that changed gender or Atomic Adventures PDF \ bloomed in the dead of winter He explains why we have nuclear submarines but not nuclear aircraft and why cold fusion doesn't exist And who knew that radiation counting was once a fashionable trend? Though parts of the nuclear history might seem like a fiction mashup, where cowboys somehow got a hold of a reactor, Mahaffey's vivid prose holds the reader in thrall of the infectious energy of scientific curiosity and ingenuity that may one day hold the key to solving our energy crisis or sending us to Mars.

10 thoughts on “Atomic Adventures

  1. Peter Tillman Peter Tillman says:

    James Mahaffey is a good writer, and has an eye for oddball anecdotes. He gets carried away with the details sometimes, and the text can be technically dense. I like his discursive-techie voice. He's fond of tiny-print footnotes; some have a hidden nugget or two. I’m the intended audience, and the book mostly clicked for me. Solid 4 stars overall; 5 when he's cookin'.

    If I were you, I'd skim the antique N-ray stuff (Introduction) very lightly, especially if you're already familiar with this fine demo of Feynman's maxim that the easiest person to fool is yourself.

    Chapter 1 relates Ronald Richter's fusion-power boondoggle in Argentina, which he sold to Juan Peron as a vanity project. Richter burned through the equivalent of $300 million in today's money in 4 years! (1948-52). Basis was a laboratory curiosity for inducing a bit of fusion with a powerful electric arc. You do get some fusion that way (probably), but zero chance to commercialize it. Of course, nothing else has worked, either, after many billions spent, and practical fusion power is still “40 years away....

    Chapter 2.
    More misguided projects, per Mahaffey. He pans the “Star Wars” ABM project, pitched by Edward Teller -- but admits it scared the hell out of the Soviets, and likely contributed to the collapse of the USSR. Next, nuclear-powered aircraft! Ideas that were, well, unlikely to succeed. You will learn more about the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Lab than you will want to know. Skim for cool anecdotes.

    Cold fusion (Ch.3 et al.):
    Mahaffey & colleagues were the first Americans to confirm Pons & Fleischmann's 1989 “discovery.” Sadly, this was the result of haste, and an odd malfunction of their neutron detectors. Probably something similar happened in the P&F experiments. Cold fusion, very unlikely when announced, is now dead, dead, dead.

    Cold War, WW2: .
    I posted a couple of quotes: see sidebar, where you can get a quick idea of the flavor of the book.
    “It's a good thing we won the war. If we hadn't, I'd be hanged as a war criminal -- Gen. Curtis LeMay, quoted by Mahaffey

    Rest of the book is worth reading, but I started skimming. Always a chance of a nugget, or a chuckle: the Chechen guerrilla who stole a super-powerful cobalt-60 source: he was dead in 30 minutes, the record so far.

    Good pro review: ((Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) )

  2. Noah Goats Noah Goats says:

    The history of science is to some extent a history of failure, but most of us don't think much about those failures. In Atomic Adventures James McHaffey dives into scientific misfires with a gleeful good humor (even when he is connected with the mistake personally). But failure can be both fascinating and instructive and learning about things like SDI and cold fusion can be a lot of fun, even if these ideas haven't panned out (YET!).

  3. Kazen Kazen says:

    While I loved Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima I'm having a hard time getting into this one. Trying to figure out why... it's a little bit more textbook-y and I'm not really sure what thread is holding the whole thing together. The text is full of rabbit trails, and while the footnotes are fun they're another layer of rabbit trails off of that. Or maybe it's just the wrong time, who knows. Sigh.

  4. laurel [suspected bibliophile] laurel [suspected bibliophile] says:


    I agree with other reviewers: this is written like a textbook.

  5. Lis Carey Lis Carey says:

    James Mahaffey is former senior research scientist in nuclear physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who, as he says near the end of this book, now writes books. If you enjoy geeks geeking on about what they love (and I very much do), his books are a lot of fun.

    This one is about some of the wilder and woollier adventures in atomic energy, bombs, scientific frauds, and all the things that make a life in science a lot more exciting than someone thinking of it only as, you know, science, might reasonably assume.

    Stories include Ronald Richter selling Juan Peron on a fusion reactor project--a vanity project for Peron; for Richter a clever way to get out of Europe after the Second World War. It was based on essentially laboratory trick, for producing a tiny bit of fusion, which unfortunately is impossible to scale up to commercial energy production. Or, well, even small-scale production for research purposes. More than half a century after Richter's Argentine boondoggle, we still appear to be decades away from useful nuclear fusion for energy purposes.

    Other stories include dirty bombs and what you should do, and the unwisdom of stealing radioactive materials. For instance, a Chechen rebel stole some cobalt-69, and was dead in thirty minutes. This was really a much better outcome for the rebel than for former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko poisoned with polonium-210, resulting in an agonizing death over the course of several weeks in 2006. Of course, those of us who grew up during the Cold War expect vile actions by the Russians. What's more startling and disturbing is how often radioactive materials have been used to poison people in the US and other countries, not to make a grand international example of someone, but for the ordinary reasons that lead to stabbings, shootings, and beatings. These attempts are often not successful, but in a way, that's hardly the point. They happen, and it's scary that they do.

    On a lighter note, there are the episodes that may have been scientific fraud, or maybe just demonstrations of the fact that the easiest person to fool is yourself. One of those is Fleischman & Pons' announcement of cold fusion in 1989. This would have been a huge breakthrough for the whole world, and it set off a rush to try to duplicate their work. Mahaffey and his colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology got involved, and were the first to confirm the cold fusion phenomenon... And almost as quickly discovered there was a small problem in their instrumentation. Since they had gone to great effort to reproduce everything they could about Fleisschman & Pons' setup, it's quite likely they'd had the same instrument problem. Mahaffey is able to be truly merciless and gleeful in telling this particular story, because he's a principal in it.

    We also get stories of abandoned reactors on forgotten islands, trees that change sex after being irradiated, a totally plausible possible explanation for what really happened at Roswell's Area 51, and accounts of the various efforts made to design an engine that really will let us travel to Mars, and maybe Alpha Centauri.

    It's a lot of fun, and also pretty informative. Recommended.

    I bought this audiobook.

  6. Howard Accurso Howard Accurso says:

    A book full of stories about atomic bombs, cold fusion, and the history of nuclear proliferation. I loved the isotopes and nuclides. And if you see a mushroom cloud in the distance with a band of red on top of it, that's most likely a U 235 fission event crowned with a layer of Strontium 90, the main radioactive byproduct of such a blast. There is also a chapter with advice on what to do if you are exposed to radiation. The text is meticulously footnoted, and ample sources are listed at the end of the book.

  7. Susan Gallagher Susan Gallagher says:

    Not as much fun as his book on atomic accidents--not as many stories of people doing dumb things with plutonium--but good nonetheless. The chapter on radionucleides as murder weapons was crazy stuff!

  8. Bryan Brown Bryan Brown says:

    This, like his previous book Atomic Accidents, is a fun read. Mahaffey does a very good job of translating hard to imagine nuclear concepts into plain English, yet he also leaves enough details so that someone with a nuclear background will also enjoy it.

    This time the book focuses on the crazy ideas that were attempted using atomic power. The creation of death rays, and imaginative (and sometimes imaginary) ways to make power from the atom. It also spends a long time on the idea of cold fusion power. The author, Mahaffey, even played a personal part in that story.

    One of my most favorite parts provides the most likely answer to the Roswell flying saucer crash I have ever read. I am surprised I had never heard it before but it makes a lot of sense.

    All in all this was a fun read even though I liked the other one better. I will watch to see if he writes more like this and will certainly buy it and read it.

  9. Lee Lee says:

    I listened to the audiobook version of this book whilst commuting.

    A fascinating and entertaining book with amazing stories of the race to conquer atomic energy. Whilst I struggled with the detailed science aspects, the stories of the backroom experiments of the early pioneers are incredible.

    Worth a read/listen if you enjoy science even as an armchair scientist!

  10. Tim Martin Tim Martin says:

    This was a very readable and quite accessible overview of a number of topics in nuclear science, some amusing, some exciting or even inspiring, several chilling, and some of which made me very uncomfortable if not outright squeamish. Though at times it could be a little technical, the author overall did a great job in discussing a great many topics, ranging from how nuclear reactors work to how nuclear weapons work to the story of the search for cold fusion to the use of nuclear materials in various applications including terrorism, completely peaceful industrial applications, and to reach the planets and stars. There were many very interesting footnotes well worth reading and a large number of helpful and interesting photographs and diagrams. The author nicely walked the line between serious expert and skilled popular science presenter with a good and appropriate sense of humor and the deft use of the occasional pop culture reference, all while educating the reader in matters of history and science.

    The opening section, the author’s note, discussed the history of the Georgia Tech Research Reactor, a well-told tale interspersing among other things an anecdote about Harry Houdini (who in 1915 performed a show near where the reactor would one day stand) and the author’s own experiences at the reactor.

    The introduction, the next section, discussed hoaxes and dead ends in the fields of nuclear science, focusing primarily on Thomas Galen Hieronymus (and the Hieronymus Effect, a term that “is used to condemn a physical measurement in which a certain sensitivity of a human being is an essential component of the instrumentation” as well as the disproven field of psionics research) and the “N-rays illusion” (another example of the Hieronymus Effect, this time centering around a French professor of physics by the name of Prosper-Rene Blondlot and the “N-rays” he discovered). A very interesting section, I knew nothing about any of this prior to reading this book.

    Continuing the theme of pseudoscience, hoaxes, and just bad science was the first official chapter in the book, chapter one, “Cry for Me, Argentina,” begins with a section discussing the impossibility of hydrogen fusion (after going into depth about what this is), noting that while “achieving hydrogen fusion is not difficult, doing it on a continuous basis at a rate that will generate new power, in which more power is recoverable from the reactions than goes into creating the fusion environment, seems beyond our current technical ability,” and that the Sun is able to produce proton-proton fusion (“which has an extremely low probability of happening, even in the best of conditions”) only because it is so big. Most of the chapter isn’t so much about physics or engineering as it is about the sad tale of “an obscure third-tier scientist, part of the human fallout left over after the smoke cleared in the defeat of Nazi Germany, Dr. Ronald Richter,” who managed to find a patron in Argentina in the form of Juan Domingo Peron and with his patronage constructed a secret facility on an island on a lake to pursue fusion research (the author recounting how Richter was either lying, delusional, or otherwise insane and how the project cost vast amounts of money and would never have produced what Richter claimed). The chapter was well written, showing how impossible currently it is to produce fusion, what Richter was trying to do (or claimed he was doing), all while telling a great human interesting story set in postwar Argentina.

    Chapter two opened with another person with “an ability to sell a large, speculative experiment to an organization that has enough money to afford the risks, which is usually the government of a prosperous country,” in this case Dr. Edward Teller, who among other things was a huge force behind getting the Reagan administration to fund the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) and most especially Teller’s favorite project, the X-ray laser, designed to shoot down incoming Soviet missiles, with the author describing the many technical and legal issues ahead of ever making an X-ray laser space-based defense system work (among other things, “an X-ray laser weapon could only be used once, as it would vanish into a brightly glowing plasma cloud milliseconds after it was fired”).

    Most of chapter two however is on the history and technology behind trying to develop nuclear powered aircraft, a field filled with enormous problems ranging from weight to the radiation shed by a nuclear powered aircraft (the latter most definitely non-trivial), with Mahaffey spending a large amount of time discussing the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory, including its role in developing the technology for nuclear powered aircraft, the facility’s history, and even what a Google Map user or urban explorer might discover should they investigate the now abandoned and sealed facility. There were nice maps, photographs, and footnotes noting what can be seen at various latitude/longitude coordinates on Google Earth.

    Chapters three and four could have been a great book all by itself together (as in fairness so could several of the other chapters), discussing in a very vivid and very personal narrative the excitement and drama of starting in March 1989 when the world was told cold fusion had been achieved and the author and his colleagues attempts to replicate (based on some very incomplete information) the cold fusion experiment they first heard about on the MacNeil/Lehrer news report on public television. In vivid and page-turning detail the author detailed the whirlwind series of events relating to hearing the news, trying to set up the experiment, elation at possibly replicating the experiment, and then what happened when they discovered they had not in fact achieved cold fusion (with a good explanation why everyone had thought cold fusion had been achieved). A very well written couple of chapters, a great blend of the personal interest story with a good popular account of science and engineering.

    Chapter five was an absolutely excellent chapter on the history of potentially using nuclear powered spacecraft. I had before reading this chapter thought such things were pipe dreams or fantastically unconcerned with the environmental impact of radiation from such craft, but after reading this chapter now see what a missed opportunity such craft represent and can appreciate why for so long this was seen as a dream worth pursuing. A lot is covered in this chapter, including why earlier concepts of using radium were discarded (radium energy release “could not be throttled down or turned off” and there just wasn’t enough radium in the world), why nuclear rockets were such an attractive option to begin with (a nuclear rocket has much more efficient use of its fuel than even the best chemical rockets; also chemical rockets can only be started once and their “only throttle setting is full thrust”), how integral at one point the nuclear rocket was to the space program (as part of a system that included a “reusable, chemical-rocket space shuttle [which] would lift passengers into low-Earth orbit, where they would transfer directly to the nuclear Moon shuttle or stop at the orbiting space station for a day of rest and briefing”), and the importance of the resignation of New Mexico senator Clinton P. Anderson (without his support the nuclear rocket program was canceled, which happened three days after he resigned).

    Chapter six focused on how Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan spread nuclear technology to a number of countries the United States and the West prefer not have such technology (and also how Khan developed nuclear weapon technology for Pakistan).

    Chapter seven was an absolutely fascinating chapter on the Japanese atomic weapon program during World War II. I had no idea how far they came to developing such weapons, nor that the Japanese had so many world renown experts (such as Hantaro Nagaoka, the father of Japanese physics and who inspired Ernest Rutherford to come up with a better model for the atom, Bunsaku Arakatsu, who studied under Einstein and also worked with Rutherford, and Hideki Yukawa, a later winner of the Nobel Prize in physics for predicting the existence of the meson particle). Also covered were Japanese understandings and espionage against the Manhattan Project (including the use of Spanish spies), and whether or not Japan actually tested a nuclear weapon off the coast of Korea in the final hours of the war (they didn’t but it is still an interesting story).

    Chapter eight discussed other nuclear weapon projects , including various Nazi death-ray projects, a laser pistol developed late in the Cold War for Soviet cosmonauts in space (a working prototype had been built and was being tested but the project was abandoned in 1989), but most of the chapter is on industrial sources of radiation, briefly discussing their peaceful, intended use such as for medical diagnosis, sterilizing medical equipment, in smoke detectors, and to examine the quality of welds “in applications ranging from shipbuilding to the plumbing of a nuclear power plant,” but most of the chapter is on the ugly, murderous uses of industrial sources of radiation, a way of killing someone that can be 100 per cent lethal, killing someone who is unaware they are dying until too late, often in a slow, brutal, ugly, and painful manner. To be fair the misuse of industrial sources of radiation in this chapter aren’t all murder (though they are included and discussed in unflinching detail) but also from theft of radiation sources by ignorant scrap thieves (who could also endanger a great many people, including their families, neighbors, those they sell scrap to, medical workers that treat them, and clean up teams sent to their homes). It was at times a hard chapter to read, for those targeted with this type of radiation or came across it accidentally suffered terrible pain, disfigurement, and painful deaths. Also some of the incidents were basically true crime accounts, of people murdering or attempting to murder those close to them, including in one case a child.

    Chapter nine continued the focus on radioactive materials in weapons, including coverage of the Topfmine, a Nazi mine “made of wood fiber, cardboard, glass, and wood” and invisible to a metal detector but detectable thanks to very low levels of radiation as “gritty inclusions in the paint were radioactive” so that hopefully the Nazis could later find and defuse their own mines, the saga of trying to get radiation detecting equipment for the troops on D-Day, and a long discussion of the realities, dangers, use of, and protection against dirty bombs, with some very effective discussion of the three things that determine the “dose effect of a concentrated source…time, distance, and shielding.” Surprisingly shielding and distance in some cases don’t have to be much, as in some cases paper or just a bit of air can be enough to shield against lethal amounts of radiation. Also some interesting discussion of Geiger counters and the rise and fall of uranium hunting mania in the United States immediately after World War II.

    Chapter ten was a much happier chapter, detailing the use of nuclear science and technology to find evidence of alien civilizations, creating ansibles or other means of interstellar communication (with a somewhat dizzying discussion of such things as entangled photons), and the possibilities of nuclear powered interstellar traveler in a person’s lifetime, such as with the Bussard Interstellar Ramjet and the British Interplanetary Society’s Project Daedalus and Project Icarus.

    Chapter eleven had a wild ending, discussing the real truth at Roswell, New Mexico (no, not aliens, but Project Mogul, which ended in 1949 but was important as a clandestine way to monitor Soviet nuclear tests and “pioneered polyethylene balloons, altitude maintenance by aerostat, and the infrasound megaphone”). Discussion of the project was fascinating, as was the explanations as to what observers saw as far as UFOs around the time of the Roswell crash (as well as the crash itself).

    The book has an absolutely excellent bibliography as well as an index.

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