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Enrico Fermi and Fission.html

Nuclear fission is the process of messing with unstable atoms by breaking them up using their own internal insistence on balancing out  their electrons, protons and neutrons and, at the same time, forcing those atoms around them to do the same thing. In the process of kicking out the troublesome sub atomic particles that were causing them such problems, they generate a lot of energy, that near magical thing that makes our lives so much better.

What is most surprising of nuclear fission as a way of generating energy is how quickly it all happened. Consider the most basic sources of energy that were used for centuries. Fire and wind and steam combined with simple engines and then more complex machines. While each innovation was a breakthrough in it’s own right, and in it’s own time, they were all centuries in the making. It may be that steam was the engine of the industrial revolution and ushered in a time of rapid technological innovation and growth, but it had been in the works in one form or another for a very very long time. And the fuels have been largely the same. Carbon based materials we burn starting with wood and moving on to fossil fuels. It may be that gasoline and the internal combustion engines that burn them are relatively new, but coal and the steam engine, it’s not too distant cousin, function under the same principles.
Not so with nuclear power. It’s something altogether different. Nothing is burned. There are no carbon based fuels. There was no long trajectory from someone discovering fire, to someone digging more efficient coal. It wasn’t about technologists tinkering with one another’s inventions to make a better version of it and then, in turn, passing the ideas off to another who, maybe a hundred years or more later, does something that looks new but it really an improvement. It may be marginal, or it may be significant, but it’s always short of “new”.

Johannes Moreelse’s Democritus

Nuclear power was new. And it started out, not in the hands of technologists and engineers, but in the hands of scientists.
The Greek philosopher Democritus, with the help of his teacher, Leucippus, suggested tha the world was made of tiny particles that were largely all the same but arranged differently. He said these were ‘indivisible” or “uncuttable) – in Greek, “atomos.” That was 2500 years ago and no one much paid attention to that idea until 1800 when John Dalton turned atomic theory into a science. It took a hundred years after that to find the electron and the nucleaus. In February 1932, James Chadwick published a paper titled “The Possible Existence of a Neutron,” and then, barely 13 years later, two bombs, known as Little Boy and Fat Man, were dropped on Japan killing hundreds of thousands of people.



There is an old saying that goes something like this: If you want to see what people are really like, just wait until there is money involved. Money is a funny thing. It is the subject of a great many opinions regarding how unimportant it is but, at the same time, motivates people in such a way as to prove how important it is. It drives individuals and empires. The history of wealth and how it is acquired and maintained runs parallel to the history of technology. And it also runs parallel to the history of humanity and how it eeks out a living on this inhospitable earth. Money can’t buy happiness, but poverty can buy a whole lot of misery. Given how technology is most often implemented to make life better in one way or another, the side effect of technologies uncanny ability to improve our quality of life is directly connected to it’s capacity to create wealth.

We have been looking at technology throughout history and, when we find technology that has had the most impact on us, it always seems to bring with it an increase in wealth. The printing press, the Industrial Revolution and the steam engine, the telephone and radio, and electricity. But they also brought a lot of problems with them. And as nations around the word look to technology to lift them out of poverty and grow wealth, other considerations, like the environment, take a back seat. I guess there really are no free lunches.

This video explores this interesting relationship.



There are no readings from Burke this module. All the material I have written in this module, and the videos, are important, so be sure to read it.

There are two videos to watch this module. The first is a video lecture about Enrico Fermi and his part in the development of atomic energy.


The second is called Power Trip: The Story of Energy – Wealth. It’s part of a series that discusses how energy has been in a chicken and egg relationship with humanity since the beginning of  time. This episode deals with the relationship energy has with wealth and the creation and distribution of wealth.


Enrico Fermi Nuclear Fission and the Chicago Pile – MediaSpace > Minnesota State (minnstate.edu)

Wealth – Video – Films On Demand (mnpals.net)


Promise and Problems The development of ways of generating energy offers enormous benefits at a very high cost. Consider at least two of the examples of innovations in energy from the videos you watched this module. The first question (two really): What were the benefits and did they out weigh the costs, and, is cost/benefit even a good way to measure these innovations. The second question: Did any of these transactions have a moral consequence? 

Instructions on writing discussion post

How to write a good initial discussion post:

1. The purpose of writing a discussion post is to reflect on what you have learned from the assigned material. How does it support what you already thought? How does it challenge conventional wisdom? Where it conflicts with your understanding of the world, does it convince you? Where it agrees, what further understandings does it imply?

2. Your initial discussion post must include at least 300 words of your own material. Repeating the question, titles, quotations, paraphrases and other additions are not counted as your own material. Any discussion that does not meet the 300 word minimum will receive a grade of 0.

3. Refer to at least two of the assigned resources. You need to give some thought to what’s presented in the assigned material. For example, you might write: The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy explains Locke’s understanding of the relationship between simple and complex ideas this way: “Once the mind has a store of simple ideas, it can combine them into complex ideas of a variety of kinds” (
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke/). Don’t make the class guess at the reference. We have to be able to find it. So it needs to be relevant and specific. People get busy and time is sometimes short, so it may be tempting at times to excerpt something from readings you haven’t considered carefully and stick it in your post to meet this requirement. Try not to do this. See point 5 on why. There is no need to use an MLA style citation to the end of a post. We need to read the quotation, and we need to know what in the material helped you arrive at the conclusions you arrived at and where we can find it. That means you need to include an author and a page number if it’s a printed resource, or a title reference for audio and video resources. Points will be deducted if the location of the reference isn’t obvious. To earn full points for your discussion, you need to refer to more than one of the assigned resources in the module if more are available. The resources work together.

4. Any discussion that includes sufficiently poor grammar or spelling to suggest that the posting was not proof-read and spell checked will receive a grade of 0.

5. The best way to meet the requirement to reference the readings is to quote them directly. But please do not quote lengthy sections of the readings. I am looking for your ideas concerning the readings and classes. See point 3. for a good example. Quotations are not considered part of the 300 word minimum.

6. Remember that you are reflecting on the material presented in the module and taking an informed position on the topic. It doesn’t help to simply repeat facts from the module. What do they mean? Use your existing opinion wisely. The d

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