The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part III: The Manhattan Engineer District

The Luminaries Report From Berkeley

While each of the four processes fought to demonstrate its "workability" during summer and fall 1942 equally important theoretical studies were being conducted that greatly influenced the decisions made in November. Robert Oppenheimer headed the work of a group of theoretical physicists he called the luminaries, which included Felix Bloch, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, and Robert Serber, while John H. Manley assisted him by coordinating nationwide fission research and instrument and measurement studies from the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago. Despite inconsistent experimental results, the consensus emerging at Berkeley was that approximately twice as much fissionable material would be required for a bomb than had been estimated six months earlier. This was disturbing, especially in light of the military's view that it would take more than one bomb to win the war. The goal of mass-producing fissionable material, which still appeared questionable in late 1942, seemed even more unrealistic given Oppenheimer's estimates. Oppenheimer did report, with some enthusiasm, that fusion explosions using deuterium (heavy hydrogen) might be possible. The possibility of thermonuclear (fusion) bombs generated some optimism since deuterium supplies, while not abundant, were certainly larger and more easily supplemented than were those of uranium and plutonium. S-1 immediately authorized basic research on other light elements.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer

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