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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Ume University Library]On: 22 November 2014, At: 04:16Publisher: Taylor &amp; FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office:Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Contemporary PhysicsPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscriptioninformation:</p><p>Science as social historyN. M. ClarkePublished online: 08 Nov 2010.</p><p>To cite this article: N. M. Clarke (2001) Science as social history, Contemporary Physics, 42:2, 125-127, DOI:10.1080/00107510010021822</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content)contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and ourlicensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, orsuitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication arethe opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis.The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified withprimary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoevercaused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of theContent.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantialor systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use canbe found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Essay review</p><p>Science as social history</p><p>N. M. CLARKE</p><p>A review of Heavy Water and the Wartime Race for Nuclear</p><p>Energy. By P. F. DAHL. (Institute of Physics Publishing ,</p><p>1999.) Pp. xvi+ 400. 35.00, $60.00 (hbk). ISBN 0 7503</p><p>0633 5. Scope: historical survey. Level: non-specialist .</p><p>At the end of every century, and especially at the end of the</p><p>millennium, the historians sharpen their pencils (or word</p><p>processors) in order to set the previous hundred years in a</p><p>context appropriate to their personal view of the develop-</p><p>ment of their country, continent or world over those years.</p><p>In many cases, there are de ning historical incidents or</p><p>inventions which can characterize a century, or at least</p><p>some part of it. For my life, which spans just more than the</p><p>last 50 years of the century, the two most signi cant</p><p>in uences were nuclear weapons and computers. This is of</p><p>course, a western, northern hemisphere viewpoint which</p><p>may be unrecognizable to someone who grew up during the</p><p>1960s in say, southern Africa or parts of Oceania. Those,</p><p>like me, who lived through the Cuban missile crisis, will</p><p>remember the almost palpable sense that we were on the</p><p>edge of oblivion; and then the subsequent relief that nuclear</p><p>weapons somehow held the fragile peace for more than 40</p><p>years, until the communication revolution, red by</p><p>advances in computer technology, broke down many of</p><p>the barriers between nations. (A former colleague insisted</p><p>that the cold war could have been ended by dropping free</p><p>computers into those countries behind the Iron Curtain .) I</p><p>am sure that many others share a similar view of these</p><p>in uences on their lives, so that the social history of the</p><p>western world can be seen to have been shaped and driven</p><p>by certain advances in science and technology. So, I became</p><p>a nuclear physicist, and nd myself reviewing Per Dahl s</p><p>book.</p><p>In Dahl s introduction he oers that his book is `not a</p><p>book about science, but a social history of science and he</p><p>encapsulates through his story of heavy water, the</p><p>discoveries leading to nuclear power and ssion bombs,</p><p>in which this elusive substance played a role, believed to be</p><p>of critical importance at the time, but which was to prove</p><p>inconsequentia l in the long term future of nuclear weapons</p><p>and for nuclear power (with the exception of the CANDU</p><p>reactors in Canada). The social and political fallout which</p><p>accompanied these discoveries for the remainder of the</p><p>century are outside the scope of this book (and my review),</p><p>but are well documented elesewhere.</p><p>Dahl begins his story, appropriately , at Oslos Fornebu</p><p>airport in March 1940 where, with the help of Frank Foley</p><p>of MI6, two scientists managed to smuggle out thirteen</p><p>canisters of heavy water from under the noses of German</p><p>agents, just before the fall of Norway. The two physicists</p><p>were the Austrian, Hans Von Halban and a wandering</p><p>Russian, Lew Kowarski, both co-workers with Frederic</p><p>Joliot-Curie in Paris. The adventures of the canisters and of</p><p>Halban and Kowarski (and Foley), seem to form a singular</p><p>thread through the amazing story that Dahl unfolds; it is a</p><p>story of intrigue, espionage and adventure which many</p><p>writers of spy novels could not outdo. This thread, a small</p><p>part of the story, deserves a more popular presentation</p><p>than Dahl can really present in this book, but without the</p><p>services of Hollywood, or perhaps of a playwright like</p><p>Michael Frayn (Copenghagen), it is unlikely to see the light</p><p>of day entitled as, say, Broompark the name of the</p><p>Scottish coal steamship which nally sneaked out of</p><p>Bordeaux, evading the German U-boats, to deliver 26</p><p>canisters of heavy water, eventually, to Windsor Castle by</p><p>way of Wormwood Scrubs prison. Back in Paris, Joliot-</p><p>Curie managed to convince the occupying German</p><p>authorities that the Broompark had been sunk.</p><p>In the rst few chapters, Dahl introduces us, in a fairly</p><p>gentle way, to the background history of the early work on</p><p>radioactivity, with research activities dominated by scien-</p><p>tists in England, France and Germany. The identity of the</p><p>mysterious radiation that was the neutron was missed,</p><p>narrowly, by Bothe in Berlin and Joliot-Curie in Paris, but</p><p> nally veri ed by Chadwick in Cambridge, and triggered</p><p>research projects all over Europe. For Frederic and Irene</p><p>Joliot-Curie, this must have been a galling disappointment ,Dr N. M. Clarke is at the School of Physics and Astronomy, University ofBirmingham, Birmingham, UK.</p><p>Contemporary Physics, 2001, volume 42, number 2, pages 125 127</p><p>Contemporary Physics ISSN 0010-7514 print/ISSN 1366-5812 online 2001 Taylor &amp; Francis Ltd 10.1080/0010751001002182 2</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Um</p><p>e U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> Lib</p><p>rary</p><p>] at</p><p> 04:</p><p>16 2</p><p>2 N</p><p>ovem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>but they made up for it by discovering the rst example of</p><p>arti cial radioactivity in Phosphorous-30, and later won a</p><p>Nobel prize. We also meet `a comedy of errors which led to</p><p>the discovery of the heavy isotope of hydrogen, eventually</p><p>called `deuterium by Urey who also settled on `deuteron</p><p>for the nucleus, overturning, thankfully , the other candi-</p><p>date names of `dygen and `pycnogen ! Here too, we meet a</p><p> gure who dominates the story of heavy water until his</p><p>tragic death from a bullet through the head in the last few</p><p>pages of this book and within a few weeks of the armistice.</p><p>He was Leif Tronstad, a Norwegian electro-chemist who</p><p>became a consultant to Norsk-Hydro. This Norwegian</p><p>company ran the hydroelectric plants which generated</p><p>electricity, made hydrogen by electrolysis, and, under</p><p>Tronstads guidance, were adapted to produce water</p><p>enriched in deuterium. Next, we follow the scientists of</p><p>various countries, seeking the explanation of the observa-</p><p>tion by Hahn and Strassman that the element barium was</p><p>mysteriously produced in reactions of neutrons with</p><p>uranium. This was correctly interpreted by Otto Frisch</p><p>and Lise Meitner as the splitting, or ssion, of the nucleus</p><p>of uranium.</p><p>This is the critical point in the story; the genie of nuclear</p><p> ssion was out of the bottle, and within months the</p><p>concepts of a chain reaction leading to a power-producing</p><p>pile or even to a bomb were well established. The race was</p><p>on, and Per Dahl whirls us though the following intrigue</p><p>connected with heavy water, which was the moderator of</p><p>choice for the experiments in chain reactions. Here we see,</p><p>not only science as social history its demands and</p><p>priorities altering or even driving the decisions of govern-</p><p>ments and the military authorities, but scientists playing</p><p>out their own precarious roles and lives against the</p><p>patchwork of others lives across the face of Europe. In</p><p>particular , Dahl gives us lavish detail about the attempts to</p><p>disrupt and destroy the heavy water production at the</p><p>famous Vemork hydro plant in Rjukan, Norway, and deals</p><p>well with some of the arguments which have arisen since</p><p>those times about the real necessity (or otherwise) of these</p><p>attempts, given that it was known at the time that the</p><p>German eorts in achieving a chain reaction had not</p><p>progressed much further than Joliot had achieved before</p><p>the occupation. Following the disasterous `Freshman raid</p><p>on Vemork, Leif Tronstad led a band of Norwegian</p><p>saboteurs with local knowledge, and eectively destroyed</p><p>the heavy water installation in the Vemork plant. But not</p><p>for long; repairs were carried out, and German demand for</p><p>the heavy water increased as they were forced to ee Berlin</p><p>in the face of mounting air raids. Following the repairs, an</p><p>Allied air raid of 140 ying Fortresses dropped over 700,</p><p>500-pound bombs on the Norsk Hydro plant, (and by</p><p>mistake, another 118 bombs on the nitrate plant at Rjukan)</p><p>with a total loss of 21 lives. This led to a plan to dismantle</p><p>the heavy water plant at Vemork and ship some 600</p><p>kilograms of enriched water in 49 drums to Germany.</p><p>Tronstads group, led by Knut Haukelid (Skis against the</p><p>atom) were able to sabotage this eort on the rst stage of</p><p>its journey by blowing up the ferry Hydro; 18 lives were lost</p><p>as the ship, with three rail cars, and all but four of the</p><p>heavy water drums sank 400m deep into the fjord. These</p><p>losses of life caused great concern amongst the Norwegian</p><p>authorities exiled in England, and has led to much criticism</p><p>of Allied motives and actions since that time. However,</p><p>Dahl points out that the hydroelectric plants were still of</p><p>strategic importance, even without the heavy water plant,</p><p>because one of their principal functions was the production</p><p>of hydrogen, and ammonia for fertiliser which were</p><p>desperately short in Germany, where fuel stocks were</p><p>badly depleted. Later in the book, almost as an aside, he</p><p>mentions also that the ammonia was a major feedstock for</p><p>the explosive industries. These reasons alone do not, of</p><p>course, justify the loss of life, but in the great scheme of the</p><p>world war, they give a lie to the accusations that the raids</p><p>on Vemork were pointless and achieved nothing, and</p><p>perhaps give a little comfort to the families of the brave</p><p>Norwegians who gave so much.</p><p>As a scientist, I appreciated Dahls eorts to give a</p><p>balanced view of the scientists involved in the history of the</p><p>chain reaction. He rightly credits the quality of the French</p><p>eorts under Joliot-Curie, whilst the eorts of the British</p><p>were more modest. He also chronicles the incredible</p><p>struggles of the German team, who suered a uranium</p><p> re, frequent moves to avoid air raids, and constant</p><p>political and military interference; in their nal attempt at a</p><p>chain reacting pile, Heisenberg and his colleagues ended up</p><p>in a cave in Haigerloch in 1945 where they were nally</p><p>tracked down by the advancing Allied forces. The German</p><p>scientists were transferred to England, and the story of their</p><p>debrie ng is told in the transcripts of the Farm Hall</p><p>recordings. Dahl also gives brief details of the scienti c</p><p>eorts in Russia and Japan. The irony of the story is that</p><p>the chain reaction was achieved, long before most incidents</p><p>in this book, by the diaspora of European scientists in the</p><p>United States who, under Fermi s leadership, achieved the</p><p> rst chain reaction with a graphite pile in 1942. For</p><p>28minutes it had an output of one-half of a watt; this was</p><p>the feeble beginning of chain reactions in nuclear ssion,</p><p>which eventually became the greatest power in the world, in</p><p>more senses than one. The rest, as they say, is history, and</p><p>as Michael Faraday said of electricity `One day, Mr</p><p>Gladstone, you will tax it ; and, of course, they did!</p><p>I enjoyed Per Dahl s book immensely; it has some</p><p>passages which may prove tough going for non-specialists ,</p><p>but its structure, with references to detailed notes in the</p><p>appendices, leaves the reader with a clear path through the</p><p>story, but with plenty of detail in the notes should one wish</p><p>to browse. Moreover, it moves at a good pace, and</p><p>addresses many aspects of the story of heavy water that</p><p>Essay review126</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Um</p><p>e U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> Lib</p><p>rary</p><p>] at</p><p> 04:</p><p>16 2</p><p>2 N</p><p>ovem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li><li><p>have been somewhat neglected. I marvelled at its detail, but</p><p>was made somewhat conscious of my age to nd in these</p><p>pages the names of people I had met, or worked with, or</p><p>had formerly occupied my o ce (Mark Oliphant, Helene</p><p>Joliot and Alan Nunn-May respectively). So, do we need</p><p>more science as social history? We do indeed, and plenty of</p><p>it, to educate and certainly to entertain the younger</p><p>generations, so that they understand that science and</p><p>technology is not just about `goodies like playstations ,</p><p>mobile telephones and the internet, or `baddies like ssion</p><p>bombs, global warming or genetically modi ed crops, but a</p><p>big, mixed bag of attributes which may change our lives for</p><p>ever. The original inventors pursued their ideas, quite often</p><p>without considering the future eect of their discoveries,</p><p>because they could not possibly know what their in uence</p><p>might be, but historians of science can, and should, place</p><p>these inventions and their repurcussions within social</p><p>histories so that future generations can make up their</p><p>own minds. However, I believe that the entertainment</p><p>factor in science as social history must be writ large; there</p><p>are as many amusing, charismatic, brave people within the</p><p>scienti c community as in the general population. Science</p><p>can, and does, make a good story, and it is peopled by real</p><p>characters whose lives are as interesting, dramatic or tragic</p><p>as any ction; we just need authors who will write about it</p><p>and remind the audience that the technological advances in</p><p>their lives do not come free of personal, political or</p><p>emotional hardship; nor are new inventions free of future</p><p>moral or social dilemmas. There are issues behind all</p><p>science, even if it is only the `o button on the TV control</p><p>pad. In Dahl s book we meet real people struggling in the</p><p>chaos of real lives during a dangerous and turbulent period</p><p>in the 20th century; it tells a story which has more drama</p><p>than any TV soap opera, but curiously, has very few</p><p>villains. Science as social history? Yes please; I await the</p><p>next episode!</p><p>Essay review 127</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Um</p><p>e U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> Lib</p><p>rary</p><p>] at</p><p> 04:</p><p>16 2</p><p>2 N</p><p>ovem</p><p>ber </p><p>2014</p></li></ul>


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