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Citizen Kurchatov: Stalin's Bomb Maker


Quantum Mechanics

Before the turn of the century, many scientists proclaimed physics a dead science. According to some of the world's experts, everything in physics had been solved and there was nothing else to learn.

However, discoveries in radioactivity changed everything when a whole new world was discovered at scales too small to observe directly. Scientists had guessed that atoms were the building blocks of all matter in the universe, but little was known about what made up the atoms.

After the discovery of the electron in 1897, other atomic components were discovered and theories were created to describe the structure of the atom. These theories worked for some of the observed atomic behavior, but failed for other behaviors.

Newer theories described the behaviors better, but they were making less sense. Subatomic particles were behaving very strangely, and the mathematics claimed the particles were in several places at the same time or behaving like a wave and a solid particle at the same time.

In 1926, at Copenhagen in Denmark, a meeting of physicists argued about the new Quantum Mechanics -- the mathematics which physicists used to describe how particles and atoms behave. The conclusion of the conference was that some things were too much for our minds to comprehend, and that the apparently random behavior on subatomic scales could never be completely predicted.

Soviet ideologists seized on this idea to accuse physicists in the Soviet Union of anti-Soviet ideas. The fundamental theory of Marxist-Leninism is the idea of Dialectic Materialism, which claims that all ideas are based on human observation. If humans can't observe it, it can't be true. They are apparently exclusive of each other -- you can't observe the unobservable.

However, the scientists working on the bomb were using quantum mechanics to design the bomb and predict its explosive output. If quantum mechanics wasn't a workable model of nuclear reactions, the atomic bomb couldn't work.



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