A Science Odyssey Title Physics and Astronomy Activity Title

Atomic Ethics

Overview: Analyze statements of Manhattan Project scientists
Learning Goal: Grasp ethical complexity of scientific research
Video Link: Effects of War

As students watch this video segment about the Manhattan Project, have them note the mood at Los Alamos. Afterwards, ask them whether they would have enjoyed being part of the project. Why or why not? Have students generate two lists of words -- positive and negative -- to describe the scientists' feelings about this project.

Click here to see the Relevent Appendix: excerpts written by Manhattan Project scientists. Print this out and hand out copies to students. After students have read these excerpts, discuss questions such as the following: How did different scientists feel about working on the bomb? What ethical problems did the project's secrecy pose for some? Have students compare the points of view on moral responsibilities of scientists. Whose arguments do they find most persuasive, and why? With whom do they think Phillip Morrison (interviewed on the video segment) would agree? Encourage students to add new words to their lists.

Ask students to consider Oppenheimer's statement, "If you are a scientist, you cannot stop such a thing." For example, if scientists realize they have the capability of creating biological weapons or cloning humans, does that mean they should do it? Why or why not? What responsibility, if any, should scientists bear for the results of their research?

Relevent Appendix
Physics and Astronomy Program Contents

Activities subtitle
Looking Back in Time
Stranger than Fiction?
In-Depth Investigation: Universal Proportions

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