Model of atom. Vector graphic by Ahnode, public domain.
Due to its direct contribution to creation of the atomic bomb, nuclear science is a controversial topic. Since the discovery of the atom, however, this branch of physics that studies the tiniest workings of our world has shaped it in very big ways.
Learn about the history of the atom bomb, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, teaching students about the bomb, and the future of nuclear science.
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A Brief History of the Atomic Bomb
Ernest Rutherford, “Father of Nuclear Physics.” Public domain.
What began covertly in 1939 as a joint effort of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States surprised the world when the products of the Manhattan Project, gun-type fission weapon “Little Boy,” and implosion-type weapon “Fat Man,” were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Check out these resources for more information on the development of the atomic bomb that changed the world.
Nuclear History at the National Security Archive (find it on the ipl2)
The George Washington University hosts the U.S. Nuclear History Documentation Project. They have posted a selection of declassified documents through the Freedom of Information Act that have helped shape the U.S. nuclear weapons policies since 1955.
Atomic Archive (find it on the ipl2)
AJ Software and Multimedia maintains a wealth of resources pertaining to the creation and impact of the atomic bomb. Featured areas of the site cover the science behind the bomb, the history of its creation, biographies of the people who worked on the Manhattan Project, and a multimedia section complete with animation, photographs, and videos.
Have you ever wondered what if would have happened if “Fat Man” or “Little Boy” had been dropped on other locations across the globe? A historian of science at the American Institute of Physics maintains Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog. His NUKEMAP shows the predicted extent of nuclear fallout on a map, given a target and type of bomb.
Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France. Photo by Stefan Kühn, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.
Nuclear energy, or nuclear power, uses sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity, and according to the International Energy Agency, it currently provides 5.7 percent of the world’s energy. The use of nuclear energy is a controversial topic, however, for both political and environmental reasons. Get down to the bottom of the debate with the following resources.
Nuclear Energy Institute (find it on the ipl2)
NEI provides news articles and resources about nuclear energy, technologies, and public policy. The institute encourages the safe exploration of nuclear energy through education, advocacy, and policy.
ProCon.org: Alternative Energy (find it on the ipl2)
ProCon.org provides research in a pro-con format on “controversial issues” related to business, health medicine, law, politics, religion, science, technology, sex, gender, and sports. Their page on alternative energy covers how nuclear energy is made as well as whether or not it is cost-effective, safe for humans and the environment, and necessary to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy (find it on the ipl2)
This site offers speeches, official congressional reports, U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy staff reports and press releases from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Nuclear Energy’s mission is to advance nuclear power through the advancement of nuclear technologies .
Virtual Nuclear Tourist: Power Plants Around the World (find it on the ipl2)
Produced by veteran mechanical and nuclear power engineer Joseph Gonyeau, this site describes nuclear energy safety systems, locations of power plants around the world, terrorism and security, types of nuclear plants and an overview of their workings, the environmental effects of producing nuclear power, and how nuclear energy compares to other ways of generating electricity.
B83 nuclear bomb test with F-4C Phantom 1983. Photo by Zapka via the U.S. Air Force, public domain.
Although only two nuclear weapons have ever been used in warfare (by the United States against Japan in WWII), there is a constant international struggle to cease the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Read about efforts to end the possibility of nuclear war on these sites.
North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Record (find it on the ipl2)
A collection of 25 documents, with a background essay, on North Korea’s possession of nuclear arms. Released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and published on George Washington University’s aforementioned National Security Archive, this site links to other related resources.
NuclearFiles.org (find it on the ipl2)
NuclearFiles.org is a project of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation providing extensive, credible information on nuclear weapons and war with the intent to “reduce nuclear dangers and eliminate nuclear weapons.” This site provides articles, treaties and non-proliferation documents, photographs of test explosions and radiation victims, ethical perspectives, biographies of scientists and government officials, timelines, and audio recordings of historical events.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (find it on the ipl2)
The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) provides the text (as well as overview information) on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) and other multilateral treaties aiming to prevent the proliferation and testing of nuclear weapons including: the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests In The Atmosphere, In Outer Space And Under Water, also known as the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). UNODA’s site also provides additional links on WMD.
Teaching Students about the Bomb
Mushroom cloud. Vector graphic by Fastfission, public domain.
While nuclear science/physics is perhaps a tricky subject to teach young children, the issues surrounding it, such as nuclear power and warfare especially are can be discussed in deferential and creative ways. Try using the following sites as starting points in planning your curriculum.
A Race to Build the Atom Bomb: A Resource for Teachers and Students (find it on the ipl2)
This site, developed by the Contra Costa County Office of Education in California, provides information on the science, the scientists, and the nations involved in the development of the atomic bomb. There are also lesson plans and suggested resources for further research, including Web links, print, and nonprint materials.
Race for the Super Bomb (find it on the ipl2)
As a companion to a 1999 PBS documentary, this site includes a timeline covering the development of the hydrogen bomb (also H-bomb or superbomb), map of nuclear test sites back to 1945, and video of several bomb detonations. It also provides a transcript of the program.
NEW! U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Students’ Corner
The NRC has designed the Students’ Corner as a resource for student learning and research on nuclear energy, reactors, radiation, radioactive materials, emergency planning, security, decommissioning, and radioactive waste. The NRC site contains photos and diagrams copyrighted as a U.S. Government Work but may be used for educational purposes under Fair Use.
The Future of Nuclear Science
Launch of MER Opportunity from Cape Canaveral. Photo by NASA, public domain.
Despite the environmental concerns and the controversy surrounding the potentiality of nuclear war, the future of nuclear physics appears to be bright. NASA scientists continue to further develop nuclear physics in order to achieve goals in space exploration, and some believe that nuclear power may turn out to be our only energy option in the years to come.
MIT Report on Nuclear Power (find it on the ipl2)
In 2003, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a report discussing the future of global nuclear power and utilization. This report was later updated in 2009.
NEW! NASA.gov: Nuclear Power in Outer Space
The National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA) focuses on Aeronautics, Human Exploration and Operations, Science, and Space Technology. NASA’s Headquarters Library provides information on NASA policies, several books and e-books, articles and reports, and other informational links on how nuclear science continues to contribute to space exploration.
POPSCI.com: Nuclear Stories (find it on the ipl2)
Popular Science Magazine is a longstanding science and technology magazine with the latest information on what’s happening now in both of these disciplines. Examining the nuclear tag will provide information on current events and how nuclear science is being used around the world.
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