At this juncture, the word "nuclear" has come to the fore once more with reference to a number of critical issues: nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, DU -depleted uranium- (currently and illegally in use by the "coalition forces" in Libya) and - in the shadow of the titanic disaster in Japan -- the use of nuclear fuel to make steam for turbines which create electricity.
It is well to recall how all of the foregoing issues came about. Recently, I have noted references to Albert Einstein as "the man who came to us from Europe, bringing us nuclear bombs." That would hardly be the behavior of a man who was proud to call himself "a peace advocate."
His main role in a complicated series of scientific developments had been to demonstrate the veracity of the formula E = MC2, which translates to E (energy) = M (mass) times C2 (the speed of light, squared.)
Only recently, in my long life, did I find a lucid- and gripping account of the series of scientific steps which necessarily preceded Einstein's E = MC2 formulation. That was in a small book entitled E=MC2, a Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis (It was a N.Y.T. bestseller.)
The usual account of Einstein's involvement of nuclear weapons relates to his having written a note to President Roosevelt, expressing his fear that the Nazi government was developing nuclear weapons, their success in such a venture could place us in a precarious position.
At this point, a clarification is necessary. The formulation of E= MC2 was an abstraction. But the tangible scientific achievement which related to it was the creation of a nuclear chain reaction (nuclear fission) which was achieved by the two scientists, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi. In 1933, Szilard had realized (while taking a stroll through a London park!) that the concept of a nuclear chain reaction was feasible, and that it could lead to the development of an atomic bomb. He also was frightened by the idea that the Nazis might be the first to develop such a weapon.
Subsequently, in the late "30's Szilard and Enrico Fermi succeeded in creating an actual nuclear chain reaction.
Szilard thereupon became a "pest" (in his quest to spread his alarm) and was rebuffed by the British, who regarded him as somewhat of a "kook." In America, he realized that his reputation was not widespread and it was he who wrote the original note to President Roosevelt about the urgency for America's own developing of a fission bomb. Realizing that only a person of Einstein's magnitude would be taken seriously, he prevailed upon his friend, Albert Einstein to sign the note to F.D.R. The rest is history.
It should be mentioned, however that both Szilard and Einstein were appalled by the genie they had unleashed. It was in the light of the foregoing that Albert Einstein made the following statement, which I personally consider to be the most profound by anyone"anytime"anyplace:
"With the splitting of the atom, everything has changed except our way of thinking."