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Title: Igniting the Light Elements: The Los Alamos Thermonuclear Weapon Project, 1942-1952

Abstract

The American system of nuclear weapons research and development was conceived and developed not as a result of technological determinism, but by a number of individual architects who promoted the growth of this large technologically-based complex. While some of the technological artifacts of this system, such as the fission weapons used in World War II, have been the subject of many historical studies, their technical successors--fusion (or hydrogen) devices--are representative of the largely unstudied highly secret realms of nuclear weapons science and engineering. In the postwar period a small number of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory's staff and affiliates were responsible for theoretical work on fusion weapons, yet the program was subject to both the provisions and constraints of the US Atomic Energy Commission, of which Los Alamos was a part. The Commission leadership's struggle to establish a mission for its network of laboratories, least of all to keep them operating, affected Los Alamos's leaders' decisions as to the course of weapons design and development projects. Adapting Thomas P. Hughes's ''large technological systems'' thesis, I focus on the technical, social, political, and human problems that nuclear weapons scientists faced while pursuing the thermonuclear project, demonstrating why the early American thermonuclear bombmore » project was an immensely complicated scientific and technological undertaking. I concentrate mainly on Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory's Theoretical, or T, Division, and its members' attempts to complete an accurate mathematical treatment of the ''Super''--the most difficult problem in physics in the postwar period--and other fusion weapon theories. Although tackling a theoretical problem, theoreticians had to address technical and engineering issues as well. I demonstrate the relative value and importance of H-bomb research over time in the postwar era to scientific, politician, and military participants in this project. I analyze how and when participants in the H-bomb project recognized both blatant and subtle problems facing the project, how scientists solved them, and the relationship this process had to official nuclear weapons policies. Consequently, I show how the practice of nuclear weapons science in the postwar period became an extremely complex, technologically-based endeavor.« less

Authors:
 [1]
  1. Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ. (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, VA (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
10596
Report Number(s):
LA-13577-T
TRN: AH200126%%404
DOE Contract Number:  
W-7405-ENG-36
Resource Type:
Thesis/Dissertation
Resource Relation:
Other Information: TH: Thesis (Ph.D.); Submitted to the Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ., Dept. of Science and Technology, Blacksburg, VA (US); PBD: 1 Jul 1999
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
08 HYDROGEN; 45 MILITARY TECHNOLOGY, WEAPONRY, AND NATIONAL DEFENSE; 98 NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT, SAFEGUARDS, AND PHYSICAL PROTECTION; ARCHITECTS; DESIGN; FISSION; HYDROGEN; LANL; NUCLEAR WEAPONS; PHYSICS; US AEC

Citation Formats

Fitzpatrick, Anne C. Igniting the Light Elements: The Los Alamos Thermonuclear Weapon Project, 1942-1952. United States: N. p., 1999. Web. doi:10.2172/10596.
Fitzpatrick, Anne C. Igniting the Light Elements: The Los Alamos Thermonuclear Weapon Project, 1942-1952. United States. https://doi.org/10.2172/10596
Fitzpatrick, Anne C. 1999. "Igniting the Light Elements: The Los Alamos Thermonuclear Weapon Project, 1942-1952". United States. https://doi.org/10.2172/10596. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/10596.
@article{osti_10596,
title = {Igniting the Light Elements: The Los Alamos Thermonuclear Weapon Project, 1942-1952},
author = {Fitzpatrick, Anne C.},
abstractNote = {The American system of nuclear weapons research and development was conceived and developed not as a result of technological determinism, but by a number of individual architects who promoted the growth of this large technologically-based complex. While some of the technological artifacts of this system, such as the fission weapons used in World War II, have been the subject of many historical studies, their technical successors--fusion (or hydrogen) devices--are representative of the largely unstudied highly secret realms of nuclear weapons science and engineering. In the postwar period a small number of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory's staff and affiliates were responsible for theoretical work on fusion weapons, yet the program was subject to both the provisions and constraints of the US Atomic Energy Commission, of which Los Alamos was a part. The Commission leadership's struggle to establish a mission for its network of laboratories, least of all to keep them operating, affected Los Alamos's leaders' decisions as to the course of weapons design and development projects. Adapting Thomas P. Hughes's ''large technological systems'' thesis, I focus on the technical, social, political, and human problems that nuclear weapons scientists faced while pursuing the thermonuclear project, demonstrating why the early American thermonuclear bomb project was an immensely complicated scientific and technological undertaking. I concentrate mainly on Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory's Theoretical, or T, Division, and its members' attempts to complete an accurate mathematical treatment of the ''Super''--the most difficult problem in physics in the postwar period--and other fusion weapon theories. Although tackling a theoretical problem, theoreticians had to address technical and engineering issues as well. I demonstrate the relative value and importance of H-bomb research over time in the postwar era to scientific, politician, and military participants in this project. I analyze how and when participants in the H-bomb project recognized both blatant and subtle problems facing the project, how scientists solved them, and the relationship this process had to official nuclear weapons policies. Consequently, I show how the practice of nuclear weapons science in the postwar period became an extremely complex, technologically-based endeavor.},
doi = {10.2172/10596},
url = {https://www.osti.gov/biblio/10596}, journal = {},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {1999},
month = {7}
}

Thesis/Dissertation:
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