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The Atomic Age

Jeffrey Syken

With the first successful splitting of the atom (nuclear fission) in 1939 came great hope as well as great fear. The latter was realized with the power of the atom unleashed as a weapon of war at the tail-end of WWII and the commencement of a nuclear arms race that continues to this day. Paradoxically, the atom held great promise for the advancement of humanity in many areas of human activity. If the nuclear chain reaction could be controlled, the great heat energy created from a small amount of fissionable material (i.e. Uranium) was tremendous – enough to light a city or power a submarine. Radioactivity had applications in industry as a means of quality control via the detection of defects, thickness of parts, wear etc. and “tagging” (i.e. distinguishing oil from different wells). In medicine, the detection and treatment of diseases such as cancerous tumors was made possible by radiation therapy. Like the proverbial genie in the bottle, unleashing the power of the atom has changed the world for better and for worse. In the post-WWII era, it was seen as a deterrent to war and as a universal secret revealed for the betterment of mankind through advanced technology. It was an Atomic Age the likes of which the world had never seen.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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