The Fly in the Cathedral How a Group of Cambridge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Fly in the Cathedral How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the International Race to Split the Atom The title refers to the nucleus of an atom which is so small in comparison with the atom that it is like a fly in a cathedralThe book is an enjoyable history of the early days of nuclear physics – roughly 1900 to 1932 told from the perspective of the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge University The high point of the story is the experiment in 1932 which for the first time split an atomic nucleus and released the energy predicted by Albert EinsteinThe book describes the experiments and the theoretical development in an easy going way but most of the space in the book is given to sketches of the researchers and their families during this period; how they lived and worked; their joys and frustrations The world of the Cavendish is portrayed its strong chief Ernest Rutherford the daily routine at the lab and the organization and drive that made the laboratory a world leader in the field Somewhat pedestrian account of the 'Inner Space Race' to the center of the atom Ultimately the poorest players in the race emphasized Rutherford's dictum ‘We haven't the money so we've got to think’ By changing the analogy I hope to avoid giving away too much of the story However imagine several nations are competing to get to the South Pole so they compete to build and powerful ice breakers while ignoring the need for compasses Cathcart tells this exhilarating story with both verve and precision The Sunday Telegraph Re creating the frustrations excitements and obsessions of 1932 the miracle year of British physics Brian Cathcart reveals in rich detail the astonishing story behind the splitting of the atom The most celebrated scientific experiment of its time it would lead to one of mankind's most devastating inventions the atomic bomb All matter is made mostly of empty space Each of the billions of atoms that comprise it is hollow its true mass concentrated in a tiny nucleus that if the atom were a cathedral would be no bigger than a fly Discovering its existence three uarters of a century ago was Lord Rutherford's greatest scientific achievement but even he caught only a glimpse Almost at the point of despair John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton two young researchers in a grubby basement room at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge grappled with the challenge Racing against their American and German counterparts a colorful cast of Nobel Prize winners they would change everything With paper and pencil calculations a handmade apparatus the odd lump of plasticine and some revolutionary physics Cockroft and Walton raised the curtain on the atomic ageThe Fly in the Cathedral is a riveting and erudite narrative inspired by the dreams that lead the last true gentlemen scientists to the very essence of the universe the heart of matter I was a 16 year old teenager fascinated by physics who knew nothing about nuclear physics and it's research when I got this book as a gift from a freind who knew I loved biographies and science Skip to few months later I was 16 and a half year old girl who understood the basics of nuclear physics and it's foundation This story got me so interested in the wolrd of nucleus and atoms that I found myself going through many scientific books and youtube lectures in order to find out everything I could about it So I give this book a big 5 star review because it had such an influence on me that I could never forget it The storytelling is great the characters are interesting and well developed and I findit after researching the other stories as much as possible to be historically and scientifically as correct as possible Interesting but maybe a bit too lengthy A worthy addition to science history with glimpses into the lives of the first atomic physicists The goal is to recount the big picture of what it took for the British to win the race to smash the atom John Banville writing in the Guardian described Cathcart's book as 'unemphatic' and while perhaps it's not as phlegmatic as that might suggest 'The Fly in the Cathedral' or 'the gnat in Albert Hall as Rutherford put it is a good solid account of the 1932 'splitting' of the atomThe aspect of the book I found most interesting were the descriptions of working life at Cavendish Laboratory Cambridge headed up Ernest Rutherford Rutherford comes across as results focused theory impatient hurry up and show me something curious and excitable even in his 60s; a biography is high on my reading list Despite his pushing of his staff and students to find stuff out already under his lead research began around 10am each day and the lab was firmly locked at 6pm with the men sent home to 'read and think' On the very rare occasion like for instance when you've just bombarded some lithium with a highly concentrated beam of protons and proved the existence of the neutron the lab might be opened upI think it's in James Watson's account of the cracking of the gene that Watson observes that this way of working complete with four o'clock tea and buns was still in place in the English universities It's so different from how we expect people on the cutting edge of anything to work nowadays and I find that uite fascinating A well researched well told story of the Cavendish lab and the work that culminated in the discovery of the neutron and the splitting of the atom in the early 1930s Experimentation gets short shrift in histories of science as compared to theory but Ernest Rutherford is as interesting as just about any theorist and using a simple apparatus to essentially visualize the atom itself as Rutherford did in his scattering experiment is about as impressive as any theoretical feat This book takes those as its prelude and focuses on Walton Cockcroft and to a lesser degree Chadwick and Rutherford's ongoing roleIn the process the book tells the interesting story of the inception of larger scale experimentation that moved beyond tabletop experiments by gentleman scientists to large machinery using large amounts of energy and teams of researchersThe book is thoroughly researched journalistic history that delves deeply into the engineering complexities of building the apparatus than into nuclear physics itself the only reason for not giving it a full five stars This book is a perfect example of why I love nonfiction Cathcart found an exciting and concise thread to follow to tell the story of the Cambridge scientists who helped open the door to nuclear physics in particualr the two men who first split an atomic nucleus in a measurable way This was an achievement that can be said to have changed the worldThe author does a brilliant job of describing the circumstances the luck and the massive effort that led to this feat Painting the picture by describing the other scientists at work in the field at the time an impressive collection the discoveries that preceeded their success as well as the basics of the theoretical ideas that affected the work of Cockcroft and Walton Cathcart successfully lays the foundation for understanding this momentuous achievement in terms that are clear and comprehensibleAnyone with an interest in particle physics engineering or simply human ingenuity will enjoy this well paced thoroughly researched and elegantly organized book The truly astonishing thing to me in the end was how primitive the euipment was The people pretty much built a particle accelerator with wood glass and Plasticine And some pioneering transformers from Metro Vick but still This was uite the enjoyable book about many of the scientists and physics engineers who worked on figuring out how the center of an atom works and the mystery that we now know as a neutron I hadn't realized some of our common x ray nuclear medicine and radiology machines were already starting to be developed and thought of during the 1930s While focusing on the team at Cambridge the other key thought I had was how this work towards figuring out the atom was happening by teams in Germany United States and others at the same time and contributions were made by scientists from many countries I hadn't realized how freuently the scientists had international meetings and how they had collaborated with each other Having studied physics it is amazing to think that what we think of as common place atomic knowledge was barely known or not even figured out then I enjoyed the uote of Ernest Rutherford of We are rather like children who must take a watch to pieces to see how it works