70 years on: The Atom Bomb and Lessons Learnt

As a species, humans have progressed tremendously in the past 10,000 years. We can now fly, talk to loved ones across the globe, access information on remote locations, study the human body and our planet earth with the most sophisticated technological instruments. We not only have landed on the moon and timed the landing with the precision of a second, but have robots investigating Mars for suitability of life. We have satellites looking down on us providing the most astounding views of planet earth. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The purpose of this article, however, is not to rest on our laurels but to scrutinize the mistakes we have made in the past. This article is intended to provide young professionals globally with a critical perspective of mistakes humans have made in hope that we learn from them.

Very few mistakes we have made as a race come close to the abuse of the most powerful bomb ‘The Atom Bomb’. Though World War II ended with the atomic bombing of Japan, it instigated an arms race known as “the cold war” between the Capitalistic Bloc i.e. The United States and NATO allies and the Eastern Bloc i.e. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact allies, which encouraged both sides to build powerful atomic weapons. The scientists and engineers in United States and Soviet Union had only one purpose: To build more powerful nuclear bombs.

In this article we review some of the critical events  and lessons learnt.

6 August 1945: The atomic bombing of Hiroshima takes place. After sometime, a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki by the United States. This basically ends World War II killing 150,000 people! But a lot more people die as a result of radiation from the bombing.  This marked the beginning of the era of mass destruction. Joseph Stalin, the then General Secretary of the Soviet Union and the Dictator of the State decides he too wants to own a nuclear weapon, the Atom Bomb.

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20 August 1945: Stalin orders Russian scientists and engineers to build him an Atom Bomb.

1946: U.S decides that it will test all its nuclear weapons on an Island 2700 miles southwest of Hawaii, Bikini Atoll. The native people living there are moved to a different island. A fleet of 90 Japanese, American and German  warships are assembled in a lagoon near the island to witness the power of the Atomic Bomb.

25 July 1946: The first test of the Atom Bomb is conducted and all warships assembled in the vicinity are destroyed. At this point, only the United States knows how to build an Atomic Bomb.

29 August 1947: The Soviets tested their first Atom Bomb which was a copy of the Nagasaki bomb. The likeness was so much that it was believed that there were spies in the Los Alamos Project making the Atomic Bomb in United States.

1950: The spies are caught and 4 days after, the United States announces that it will design even more powerful weapons. The need to strike balance created a great rush in design exercises which resulted in the creation of the Hydrogen Bomb. The first Hydrogen Bomb intends to draw power from a fission reaction unlike the earlier Atom Bombs which worked as a result of a fusion reaction (splitting of atoms under immense pressure releasing vast amounts of energy i.e. 20 Kilotons which is equal to 20,000 tons of TNT). In comparison, the energy released from a Hydrogen Bomb is measured in Megatons (Millions of tons of TNT). At this point the US scientists and engineers believed that it is only a matter of time before the Russians will catch up. So now it is up to the Los Alamos scientists and engineers to build the world’s first thermo-nuclear bomb, the Hydrogen Bomb, codenamed ‘MIKE’.

1 November 1952: The first Hydrogen Bomb is tested, the world’s first man made thermo-nuclear reaction. But it weighed 82 tons and was not of much use.

12 August 1953: There is intense debate as to which group created the first portable Hydrogen Bomb. There is still debate to this day. But it is strongly believed that the Soviets built it. Could the United States do the same?

March 1954: 6 months later, Los Alamos answers the Soviet Union by creating a Hydrogen Bomb from solid fuel made from the lightest metal on earth, Lithium, specifically Isotope Lithium 6. America’s super bomb is codenamed ‘Castle Bravo’. The bomb was only tested with liquid Hydrogen and not Lithium 6 which resulted in incorrect calculations. Even then, United States decides to test Castle Bravo on the northwest side of the Bikini Island. The bomb is to be triggered from the island of Enyu, 20miles away, from a water tight bunker protected by reinforced concrete and massive doors. 48 hours before triggering, all personnel except the firing men, are removed from Bikini Island.  The expected energy from the explosion is 5 Million tons equivalent of TNT. If the explosion produces a higher energy release, no one within the 20 mile radius will remain alive.

Question to consider: Why did the US test a bomb which they knew was never simulated with liquid hydrogen? Isn’t it an obvious lesson to never execute without thorough testing, especially when it’s the case of a bomb? It was poor judgement on behalf of the United States to ever test the Hydrogen Bomb without full knowledge.

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1 March 1954: Castle Bravo is tested. The energy, heat and light from the explosion was so high that personnel on a ship 23 miles away could see the bones in their bodies. The aftershock produced a Tsunami. The explosion even got so close to the bunker that the concrete walls creaked.  So what went wrong? Castle Bravo was not only made up of 30% Lithium 6 but also 70% Lithium 7 which was thought to be inert. However, on post analysis it was confirmed that the explosion went out of control and as a result, Lithium 7 became radioactive. This was something the scientists and engineers were not aware of, but should have been. Castle Bravo was designed to yield 5 Megatons of TNT, but because of the miscalculation, it resulted in an explosion of 15 Megatons of TNT. It also was directed towards Japan, another unexpected variation in the explosion that was not as per designs. There was a national outcry over radiation effects that not only affected people but also marine life.

Question to consider: How much bomb testing is too much testing when it comes to destruction of natural resources? I think that considering that both parties, the US and Soviet Union, acted on fear alone of being bombed by nuclear weapons, it was already time to stop creating more powerful bombs.

Before and After the Castle Bravo explosion on Bikini Island, Image courtesy of MichaelJohnGrist.com

Before and After the Castle Bravo explosion on Bikini Island, Image courtesy of MichaelJohnGrist.com

1960s specifically 1961: By this time, United States has all the necessary technology and expertise needed to build bombs of all sizes, ranging from a few kilotons to megatons capacity. It was also in this time, that Soviet Union scientists and engineers started building long range missiles in response to the Castle Bravo. Relations between US and Soviet Union deteriorate even further. At this time, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States.

July 1961: President Kennedy decided to station half of the bombers in Europe on more alert. This freightened Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who then called on Russian scientists and engineers to show US what the Soviet Union is capable of. He wanted the biggest bomb ever made in history dubbed the Tsar Bomb meaning the King of Bombs. The Castle Bravo exploded at 15 Megatons, but the Tsar was designed to explode at 50 Megatons.

30 October 1961: The seismograph in the US Military Monitoring Station in Alexandria, VA records a massive surge of activity. But the origin of this surge is not an earthquake, it is from a location inside Soviet Union territory. The only explanation to this event is that the Soviets have built a bomb more powerful than the United States ever had, a 50 Megaton weapon deliverable. This is 4000 times bigger than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

The Soviet Union tested the Tsar Bomb. The most powerful bomb ever made by man, created a mushroom cloud which peaked at 40miles, around 7 times the height of Mt. Everest. Buildings 70 miles away were destroyed, and windows shattered 300miles away. Analysis state that if the Tsar Bomb was detonated on Washington D.C. from an optimum height of 2000 Ft, the initial fireball will kill everything and everybody within 3 miles, people 12 miles away would suffer 3rd degree burns, most building 20miles will be destroyed killing 1 Million people instantly and 3.5 Million in total.

The scientist who designed the Tzar Bomb estimated that 500,000 worldwide will suffer in the coming decades if the radiation deposited by the huge cloud slowly disappeared. The fallout of the Tsar Bomb is still classified. The United States test zone Bikini Island as of 1970 is still radioactive.

1963 – Finally both sides agreed to a Test Ban Treaty performing all further tests underground to avoid fallouts.

So what can Young Professionals learn from this experience today? We can learn that progress for the sake of progress is not as great an idea as it may first seem, that progress at any cost often results in very high costs paid by countries and people of the world. Our lessons learnt are also that politicians must not drive technological progress the way they did during the Cold War. Building such weapons in the name of protection of one’s own countrymen does not make them any less destructive to neither man nor nature.  So as scientists and engineers, if we have the capability of building such technology, technology that has the capacity for mass destruction, then it is our duty to ensure that all steps are taken to avoid mass destruction. Power against power and meaningless wars only create destruction of our world as we know it.

Article written by Sneha Kangralkar, IMPACT Assistant Editor

Startup in Focus: Hand in Scan and Tamas Haidegger

Tamas Haidegger is the CEO/CTO of Hand-in- Scan & Adjunct Professor at Obuda University in Hungary Budapest. He is highly active within IEEE through the Robotics and Automation Society and currently representing Young Professionals. We interviewed him today to find out more about his research and his startup product Hand-in-Scan. Here is what he had to say to the Young Professionals around the world:

Hand-in-Scan's CEO Tamas Haidegger was awarded the prestigious Dennis Gabor award in the Hungarian Parliament for his entrepreneurial achievements

Hand-in-Scan’s CEO Tamas Haidegger was awarded the prestigious Dennis Gabor award in the Hungarian Parliament for his entrepreneurial achievements

Your Research is in the field of Long Distance Teleportation control. Could you elaborate on this?

I was very interested in Space Robotics and through a Physician colleague, who asked questions about the possibility about performing long distance surgery in space, my interest in this area increased. Despite the fact that surgical robotics started in 1975 with the aim to support Astronauts, there was no research on the physical consequences of space travel. Hence I chose the topic of my thesis to be the feasibility of such analysis and whether tele surgery will be possible.

Could you tell us more about the field of Long Distance teleportation control?

The field of Long Distance teleportation control became a hot topic in research when tele robotics became possible. There are a lot of transatlantic and transcontinental robotic research experiments that are undertaken in this area today. In the meantime, I still think that it is very extreme and the more we think about going to the moon and shooting from Mars the more interesting the area is becoming.

How did the idea of Hand-in-Scan come about?

The idea of Hand-in-Scan came from one of my students who worked in hospitals. He researched the process doctors and nurses sanitized their hands after surgery. There are a lot of market products but when not used properly can cause infections which actually happens more times than we know of.  In the western world, statistics also say that about 200,000 people die because of secondary infections they receive at hospitals during getting a treatment. Hand-in-Scan is an engineering machine which scans hands to point out the missed areas after regular sanitization is done. There is also a reporting function in the machine which sends reports and statistics to the management for analysis to make sure that processes are running correctly.

When you had the Hand-in-Scan idea, how did you know that you wanted to turn it into an entrepreneurial opportunity?

For me, I definitely think that it was an evolution more than a revolution for me and initially I tried to acquire some research grants and some funding for this project but after struggling for a couple of years, we decided to run it as a business. And we had to really change our mindset from Academic to business oriented.

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Could you share your experience working with the World Health Organization WHO in relation to the Hand-in-Scan product?

WHO has a special patient safety group consisting of users and companies who devote a lot of their time, energy and money to improve the standards of patient safety. One subgroup or committee is the hand hygiene group which consists of companies selling hand hygiene products and solutions and we are a part of that community and try to contribute towards better patient care.

With doing research, managing a company and teaching, how do you manage your time?

Excellence in research involves good methodology, very thorough basic knowledge and good people you work with can really make you successful in research and this can be translated into good startups. Teaching has provided me with the sales skills required to run this startup successfully.  Also because the company is embedded into the university itself, management is something that I think I am doing well.

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Where do you see yourself working in Technology in the future, while also working at the university?

I think the technology transfer process from university is a very interesting one because I think brilliant students deserve a chance to make their ideas a reality and university can help with translating some ideas into businesses if not all. And I think that is a very exciting future for students.

What role has IEEE played in your career so far?

Starting with 10 years ago, we were organizing small IEEE chapter events, organizing competitions and exchange programs for local students. I did not only get in involved in organizing events but also getting involved in community. Since then, throughout many years, I have attended many IEEE conferences and I developed strong professional connections which helped me in numerous ways. One of the best thing was that I met the best people in my field and once I got to know them, I could ask them questions any time and they assisted me all along. On the other side, IEEE does a lot of work in the business outreach direction as well.  I gained a lot of regulatory knowledge from this which I used during the development of my project.

How has your experience been so far and do you have any special moments you wish to share with us?

I have a lot special moments working so far and I think if you cannot enjoy your work, then you need to change it. Two key messages that I really live by and would like to share with young professionals worldwide are that if you can enjoy your job, you will never have to work your entire life and that get smarter people aboard and make them excited about your problem. And this will help you be creative both in academic and business.

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So what is your message to young robotics professionals around the world? What can they look forward to in the future in Robotics?

This field is growing immensely and the rise of new systems and new companies is unprecedented. The Robotics and Automation society grew from 9000 members to over 12000 members now and I am not talking about amateur member students, but professionals who are currently working in this field. Robotics is integrating into my life increasingly. So this is a good time to join if you are interested, more over if you have an idea which has not been explored before, you can get paid to actually get it into fruition by forming a team.

The team at Young Professionals thanks Tamas for this amazing insight into the world of Robotics. It sure is a field that is growing tremendously and is always hungry for more innovation.

Interview conducted by Shashank Gaur, IEEE Young Professionals

Interview transcribed by Sneha Kangralkar, Assistant Editor, IEEE IMPACT

Engineering, Ethics, Society and the IEEE Young Professionals

Ever thought about the ethical impacts of a technology? Ever wondered why some promising technologies fail? How do we understand the ties of technology to society and how do we ensure the society is benefited?

We interviewed Dr. Greg Adamson, the Associate Associate Director Operational Assurance at ANZ and President IEEE SSIT (Society on Social Implications of Technology) to get the answers to some very important questions every young engineer must know.

With over 35 years work experience, here’s what Dr. Greg Adamson had to say:

Dr. Greg Adamson, tell us a little about yourself and the work you do at ANZ Bank?

I work in the field of operational risk, which looks at technology, information security and operational issues that can cause difficulties for the bank and its customers. Banks often look to people with engineering backgrounds to undertake operational risk tasks, as our training provides us with a structured way to look at problems and challenges.

Dr. Greg Adamson

Dr. Greg Adamson

How did you get involved with IEEE and can you highlight the activities of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT)?

I joined IEEE as an undergraduate student following the encouragement of one of my lecturers. A couple of years later when renewing my membership I noticed SSIT. Sometime later I helped to establish an SSIT chapter in Australia, and more recently I have served on the SSIT Board of Governors and this year as President. In recent years IEEE has been encouraging SSIT to be involved in all new IEEE initiatives. For areas such as drones, the Internet of Things and brain technology interfaces, the social implications are clear. The common view within IEEE today is that if SSIT isn’t at the table in a new initiative, a key stakeholder has been missed.

Why do young professionals today need to understand the interplay between technologies and society?

I see three answers to that. The first is ethical: it is the responsibility of technologists to think about the impact of what they are working on. The second is practical: a lot of technologies fail in the market and in many cases the ones that fail ignored users and the relationship between the technology and the community. Finally, when we finish our careers, we would generally prefer to be remembered for something we achieved, not for some disaster we accidentally caused.

What resources can young professionals use to understand the underpinnings and effects of technology in society?

There is the IEEE Code of Ethics. Then we have an excellent magazine, IEEE Technology and Society. As well as that we are developing some great social media resources on Facebook, Linked In, and IEEE’s Collabratec.

What advice would you provide to young professionals worldwide who wish to pursue a career in the societal impacts of technology?

In industry fields such as ergonomics, industrial design, cybernetics, specialties such as the human aspects of security, and operational risk are all fields that expect you to think outside the box. Beyond that, all other areas of industry still benefit from the breadth that an SSIT background gives you. In academia teaching ethics, environmental research, humanitarian technology, privacy and security, and other areas that involve a multi-disciplinary approach to questions are all relevant. Most of the not-for-profit areas that involve technology volunteering are also very relevant.

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The IEEE GOLDRush team thanks Dr. Greg Adamson for showing us a side of technology which is not just important but very much present. With this understanding, Young Professionals can build technologies that will create better and greener societies.

Interview conducted by Sneha Kangralkar, Assistant Editor