tv Gino Segre and Bettina Hoerlin Discuss The Pope of Physics CSPAN January 16, 2017 3:15pm-4:21pm EST
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[inaudible conversations] >> containing hello. i am to be dichter, chair of the board of the foundation. welcome to another wonderful nights at the free library of philadelphia. our amazing, magnificent star lineup. tonight we have some awesome friends and officers and if you see the lights here we are on c-span. you don't have to run home to watch your self because it will be on the book talk show and, you know, that signals again that these three stars warrant
this kind of attention and we are very proud. also, we are proud and thankful for this library and what we do and i see some of the board members in the crowded tonight and those of you who keep coming to these, thank you. we are blessed and i would encourage you at thanksgiving to remember the free library of philadelphia and if you feel thankful for its and all that we do, would you consider making a contribution however much you can. the conversation tonight with enrico fermi and gino segre will be moderated in conversation with doctor larry gladney don't know how many of you know him, but he has so many syllables in the things he does that i wanted to write to pronounce it. use the professor of physics and astronomy and dean for the natural sciences, but he also--
what he thinks about and cares about in addition to all of the stratospheric stuff is kids and so he has worked hard from-- for middle schoolers and young people to get engaged in the sciences and that in itself is laudable. here to introduce our dynamic duo is the wonderful doctor larry gladney. thank you. [applause]. >> good evening. my privilege to be able to introduce the two authors of this fabulous a book, gino segre is america's professor of physics and astronomy at the university of pennsylvania and has been a visiting professor at mit and oxford university and i'm proud to say he was my chair at the department of astronomy at penn and former director of
theoretical physics at the national science foundation. chino is author of three books of scientific history particularly on atomic physics and his second book was a finalist in the los angeles times a book fair and winner of the american institute of physics science writing award. bettina hoerlin is a form of philadelphia health commissioner and taught health care to the university of pennsylvania for 16 years and has been a visiting lecturer at oxford university. she is the daughter of her bin hornblende and chronicled her parents departure from nazi germany and her own fabulous book which i encourage you read. she grew up in atomic city lost
almost and she and chino are a husband and wife team and always. has seven children and nine grandchildren and i'm proud to call them my friend. please join me in welcoming gino segre and bettina hoerlin. [applause]. >> i'm going to start off with something that's a bit unusual, but i want to thank the two authors here. i believe may be about 15 years, maybe 20 years ago juno on the death of another famous physicists, said the greatest thing you can say about him is you are so proud to hold the same union card as someone who also holds it who is named richard feynman and i really feel very lucky to have been
asked to interview the two of them about this book because enrico fermi is the physicist physicists picking may not be well known to the general public, but he is one of the great heroes who have done atomic physics and it's so amazing to have this fabulous and authoritative story of his life. we have a review from the "wall street journal", which has also just come out which says exactly that, so this is a fabulous book i want to get started by asking the two of them to tell us what the motivation was for writing this book about fermi who is not as well-known as a einstein. >> mi too loud? no, okay. maybe i will start out. i was born in italy and came to the us as a baby, but went back
to italy and fermi was a hero in italy and if you wanted to be a physicist he was a double hero and as larry said he is the physicist physicists, so i thought g i have written a few books, but there's no big book on fermi and it would be great to write one. as i started to write it and bettina has been my first reader and helper on all the other books, all dedicated to her, she saw i was in a bit of distress because i was in amazement of the man and i thought at a certain points, what am i going to do and i was losing side of as i said so stunned by the physics i was losing side of the great political and social times
that he lived in and all the adventures and bettina sort of said to me this book may need a little restructuring or a lot of restructuring and it may be we can go easy on the quantum mechanics. >> i was holding back. [laughter] >> so, it became quite a difference book and it truly became our book and it's been a really wonderful experience and i think some complements to bettina not only for what she did, but she didn't learn finally a lot of physics. [laughter] >> it was about time, you know? her father was a physicist, but he couldn't do it and i couldn't do it, but the book did it. >> i'm going to take a risk here bettina and say there might have been a challenge and
co-authoring this book with gino >> no, not at all. not at all. it was a bed of roses. it was very challenging, but in wonderful ways because it was a conversation that was on a level that's-- not that we don't talk about intellectual things, but it was a whole other level and it was good arguments attacking the two of us. >> most of the time. [laughter] >> most of the time and it was a time that was very tough for me to learn the physics as gino said. my father had tried to teach me physics. i studied physics. larry, you probably don't know this that i took a course at the university of colorado, my alma mater, with a famous physicist and he knew i was the daughter of a physicist and he asked me to come up and demonstrate
answers on the board for everyone else. if anything freezes you, that will, but there is a tremendous give and take in terms of the way that we thought about the book, conceptualized the book and there were different times that gino's italian personality would come out and my german one would come out. >> no, no, no, no, no. yes, yes, yes c mccarthy was a very healthy interaction and an exciting one. >> how did the title come about, "the pope of physics", that's a strange way to describe someone. >> you have to remember this was rome and there was a little bit of a joke there because fermi was a physicist physicist and he was infallible. people used it to joke that his answers were always right and he
knew everything and, the court-- the pope was regarded as being infallible, so people in rome got nicknames. they were a young bunch of physicists in their 20s when i started out. one was the pope and another one was the cardinal and the other one was the grand inquisitor and so on, but there is no question about who was the pope and he was the pope in rome. of course there was another pope they are, that's another matter. >> i think the group in general were probably rather godless a group and there was a certain amount of irreverence to this. i'm amused if one looks at amazon.com and looks for our book that you will see it's at the number bestseller of catholic books.
i think some people might be surprised, but anyway. >> i think i might add at this time when he was nicknamed the pope, the pope after that the italians had conquered rome and taken away the pope's temporal domain he retreated to the vatican, so he did not recognize there were no diplomatic relations between rome-- between the italian republic and the vatican. that didn't change until 1929 when mussolini made an agreement , so for a while he really could be the only pope in italy. >> set the stage for us a bit. fermi is this young man, completely unknown even in his own country and within a decade he will become this international star of science, but it's during a time when fascism is in full rain in the 1920s.
how does that affect young fermi? what role does that clean his developments? >> well, you know, there he is in his 20s and he comes from a modest family. his parents had not on to college. there was no one else in italy and physics at the time. he was the leader and he was just purely thinking about physics as far as i can tell. he joined the fascist party, but that's because mussolini appointed him to the royal academy, which doubled his salary and he said hey, doubling my salary is a good thing. okay, so i will pledge allegiance to mussolini appeared doesn't bother me one way or another as long as i can do my experiments. >> i think he was amazingly the political and this was a hard
he likes the united states immediately. he liked it more and more. if it hadn't been for his wife who was very attached to italy and her family there, i think he would have left but he personally wasn't political but he didn't like fascists and he didn't particularly like the italian way of life at the time. >> let's explore that a little bit because in the beginning of the book you dedicate the book to him and
you make a point of saying in the book that of course when he came and the war started he was considered an alien and yet he worked on some important projects for the rest of the war effort so how does he become so attached? does he view himself as an immigrant or someone who was born and wound up in the right place? >> i should also mention, i think you're trying to do this chronologically which makes sense but we should mention that fermi did met mary a woman who was jewish so when things started tightening up in italy, and it became clearer and clearer that the racist laws were being imposed, i think there was a growing awareness and i think that awareness was increased by the fact that he
took a number of trips to the united states and he came to the united states in 1930 and he came with his wife and they went to michigan and he fell in love. he fell inlove with the united states .i'm jumping ahead but he really came almost every summer after that to the united states. it was a very different kind of system in the united states, it wasn't this hierarchal, european professor system, it was very french and he appreciated that. he appreciated the equalization and teamwork and love the american culture. what i was trying to get at was where i jumped ahead was at one point when he decides he is going to stay here, he tries to convince heisenberg to come from germany and stay
in the united states and his quote there, gino, you do it better than i do. >> he said this in the summer of 1939 he had already emigratedto the united states and he said i remember , in italy i was a prescott but here i'm a physicist like all the other guys around. it's so much better. why would you say stay here? heisenberg said my country needs me. my country will need me in the future, i am a loyal german. i'm a physicist. and he was a fairly decent person, even this is a little bit of a sin for an italian, even added water to his wine when he drank it. >> let's talk a little bit
about this time. can i ask both of you independently because we have one person one budding scientist. >> what would you say was his greatest achievement in science? you can have two different perspectives on that. is it physics or his impact or what he did for the war effort? >> i started and i was in law but the only system, i think larry will agree with me on this, the only physicist in the 20th century when achieved both of the very top of the profession at lopez theorist and a experimentalist, not true of inger or like that but also he's the last physicist tobasically work in
all fields of physics . so i would say, i would pick probably if i had to three or four things in physics that i would thinkaloud , friendly statistics, the basis for all conductor and transistors, the way we think about electricity and metal. the introduction, there were two forces of nature, gravity and electromagnetism that produced work on that daily and he was also the first man to use neutrons to bombard nuclei and that's the basics of nuclear physics and the basis of how fusion and how the bomb was built but also how reactors are built, of nuclear medicine so he did a lot.
>> my physicist associate here will name three more now. >> 's contributions are probably not quite the word to use but i would say that fermi has to be remembered for being the person more than any single person who was responsible for, how you feel about it is another thing but who was responsible for making of the atom bomb. he changed our world. he changed the way we think about the world, changed the nation, changed international relations. it opened up a whole new era and that has to be a stand alone achievement in some kind of way i think. so as controversial as it is
and maybe we will get into that more with the question, i would say that his research first and his experiment 1st and the university of chicago , where he has the first successful experiment in controlling nuclear fission, a chain reaction which inevitably led to the making of the bomb. i'd have to go off. >> he was also a great teacher. >> depending on how you come to know him, six or 10 of his students got nobel prizes but he had the style both in italy and for people from northern europe in the 30s who came to study and work with him, when the people who trained the likes of the pr and here on the stage were trained so.
>> huge impact just in terms of putting people in touch. >> yes. >> let's talk about the beginning of the atomic age in the 1942. when you make the movie , that's going to be one of the most exciting things is putting that atomic pile together. i have to say the most unbelievable part of it at that the university of chicago ever had a football team but we will come back to that. so . >> it was a defunct phase. >> he put an atomic pile into it, obviously not very active. play out the scene here, how does he put together the team and is it unique that fermi was the person that could actually say the first self-sustaining chain reaction as he points out, is
the thing that makesit possible ? >> all right. well the pile, he coined the term pile. it's a bunch of bricks with little balls of uranium in there. which with some control rods and when you pull up the control rods, you will have a chain reaction. originally it was going to be built in the argonne forest but they ran into trouble with some of the construction workers so fermi went to the head of the project and he says no problem, there's a squad for it there, me and the guys, we will just put all the bricks in. it's not a problem, it's 45,030 poundsof lead bricks . we will have two ships of 12 hours. and we can do this in 15 days. by the way, he said the head
of the project to arthur thompson, you'd better not tell the president of the university we are doing this. >> can you imagine that happening today? in all fairness, he approved the project. >> but not be experiment. he didn't know that it might blow the campus up. >>. >> in the end it puts out about a half a wise. but at some really amazing point in the story, fermi says let's stop for lunch. they leave the atomic pile their unguarded and they go off to lunch for an hour and a half and come back and it's right where it's supposed to be so i think they did put a lock on the door area and but one of the things we were
talking about before lunch and larry and i but bettina says we will get there yet but he seemed to have all these imperfect concepts that things were going to work the way he built them. i think this already is as a kid, we had no teachers as parents, and they said that's how we do things, we will make it work and was it dangerous? probably not, not with fermi there because everybody trusted him. there's fermi, he's done the calculations. he told them the day before, okay. when you put these last bricks in, the 57 layer of bricks, it will go critical
when you pull out the last control rod. but that's the way it went. >> i must say that the story of how that happened underneath stag field was a remarkable story, when we went to the archives in chicago, where we are both living in boxes and the experiment has glass on two sides and you wear gloves, all that happed in italy when we went to the italian archives, no gloves, you could handle whatever you wanted. >> the little coffee while you are studying. >> but at the university they are very careful about it and understandably so. i'm reading this account of what happened there underneath that field when nuclear fission was successfully found and controlled and it was such a,
i was totally thrown by this, unexpectedly emotional moment to read this because you know the world is going to change. and i start crying. i just start bursting out in tears. you know, he's looking at me and one of the archivists comes rushing in with a box of kleenex for me and she says just be careful not to drip on it. but it's an amazing story and it's one of my favorite parts of the book because you have this room full of 50 people who basically have fermi, they are saying, we could have been blown to smithereens as for the campus in the city and they are there and there is incidentally one woman. who is the only woman, the only one in the room and
she's the youngest one in the room, she's 60 at that point, leona marshall and she is doing the neutron count. she is, her voice, it's the female voice. i always thought this would make a great hour and the neutron count keeps on accelerating should so she starts out 100, 1000, i was always thinking that would be a great aria area 10, 15. then she hits the high c which is the pile goes critical. so it was quite a suspenseful time but people had faith that fairly knew what he was doing. he was totally another experiment. >> to add to that, when you
pull out the last control rod , the pile goes critical. it generated only half a wise but it's increasing and this increasing exponentially so they are all waiting to put the rod back in. and he kept wanting to check that the curve really was exponential so it took him slightly less than four minutes, to give the order to put the rod in. the people who were there looked for four minutes. they said, when is he going to give the order to put the rod back in? and they didn't say anything because it was fair fermi but if it had been anybody else, they would havebeen yelling at him, put the rod back in. so . >> so fermi joins three labs,
all dedicated to the project and it was all as you say science. then the bomb goes off in july and you know it works. now it's no longer science. you have to make a decision as to whether to drop this or not. how does fermi feel at this point? is he still thinking of it as science or does he know thousands of people are going to die because we've now made this thing and it is going to work the way we planned for it to work. >> will i start . >> it's difficult to know exactly how this goes. he felt in terms of science felt that ignorance is the worst possible condition you can have. and anything, that knowledge
is something inevitable and that if we don't reach that knowledge, somebody else will. that the laws of nature will be revealed, they will uncover them and as a physicist, he felt this was what his role was, this is what his property was so the bomb gets developed, it goes off successfully and then the decision has to be reached, what does one do with it? but even before that bomb went off in july, in the may there were people in washington who at that point had some foresight that we
are going to have to decide what to do with this. it looks like we are actually going to make a bomb and we're going to have to decide what to do with it. so what do they do? they do what everybody does, they form a committee. this is called the interim committee the cause it's going to be about the bomb. and with that interim committee which is the midst of people, they had a panel that would advise the interim committee, the interim committee would advise the president. on theinterim committee was oppenheimer of course . and fermi was on that. [audio lost] >> that demonstration we could invite japan, maybe other countries and that demonstration, they would see the power of this weapon and it would prevent further war.
the other camp was, that's not going to work, it was horrendous for one thing and we need to drop it to show the japanese in particular, the germans had already surrendered but the japanese that we have a weapon of mass destruction. and that was a controversy and this committee, this scientific panel of four scientists looked at it and they made the recommendation that there was no viable alternative other than to drop the bomb on a major city and a major industrial center. fermi was part of that. and he looked very much the technical parts of it but he was part of that decision-making. at the same time, when they made that recommendation, they said that they had in
making that recommendation that they had no special competence to make the judgment, the critical judgment to drop a bomb, they were very modest in that regard. they said we are not sure scientists are the best people to make this decision but that was the decision that was made and we look very hard. there was no, nothing we could find in our research that had any evidence that fermi was hesitant in making that decision. so don't forget, the scientists who were in los alamo's work by and large had fled fascism and they were very patriotic about this country. >> it's obviously a very controversial decision, many thought that this weapon was so horrible that it might bring an end to all wars.
that was the view of niels bohr discussed. and there are physicists who differed. there was a group in chicago, a committee headed by a physicist named james frank that it not be used. as a war weapon. obviously a very tricky one and the president of the united states, you have to remember this is a war and are you going to not use it because of the danger of bringing into the world such a weapon? are you going to tell the parents of men and women, the men and women who were killed in a war that goes on that mighthave been stopped ?
>> pretty much men. >> that you could not use a weapon because of moral scruples? that's a very tough one. >> don't forget the united states had invested $2 billion in the manhattan project at that point and $2 billion and what are we going to show for it? a weapon we are not going to use. that's a hard thing for politicians to justify. and people will were also concerned that if it was used that future scientific funding would be in jeopardy but i think that wasn't the primary . it was all secondary. >> it was in there. >> it was an enormous project , there were 100,000 people. and by the way, it was so secret that when fdr died and truman became president and secretary of war, the very
same day he told them, president truman, there's something i want to tell you. he didn't know at that time the atom bomb had been developed. >> i'm going to ask if there's someone who wants to read a favorite passage. >> i thought you'd never ask. i happen to be ready. sure. and guess what i'm going to read? i'm going to read, i mentioned to you that an exciting part of this book was for me anyway the whole thing beneath the football field. so this is a scene where the experiment is successful and the people were not cheering. they knew the import of this. people were very happy that the experiment had gone well. they were happy that they didn't all get blown up. but they understood also the
implications of this so it was in the evening by the time they left but one of the things that the head of the chicago experiments in compton had to do was let the people in washington know how this experiment went and that call was going to be put to james cronin who was president of harvard but also led the major committee in washington that was responsible for coming up with an answer about what to do with the bomb so he called james conant in washington and as indicated, this was a very secret effort that hutchinson who didn't know about it so over the phone, they decide and they talk a little bit in disguise here
so this is compton talking to conant and he says jim, you will be interested to know that the italian navigator, who could that be, had just landed in the new world. conant, his excited response was is that so? were the natives friendly? i answered, everyone landed safe and happy . that's the end of that conversation. as darkness began to descend on chicago that december afternoon,those in the court drifted slowly out . he would been the first to greet fermi at the pile was the last physicist to leave and evening. when he finally filed out, one of the guards stationed outside asked him what's going on doctor? did something happen in
there? something had indeed happen. none of those in the court that afternoon forgot being there when the pile went critical. it had only generated a maximum power of one kilowatt, scarcely enough to light a flashlight battery. however, if that had been allowed to grow unchecked it would have killed everyone in the court and wrecked havoc on the city of chicago. >> so i'll read something from the very beginning of the book in the prologue and we can let that slide there. when the bomb, they work sure the plutonium bomb would work so there was a test at trinity and there was a lot
of discussion that the betting pool, is it going to work or not. how big of a bomb will it be? they are all lying in the desert there. and they are looking from a distance at the site the bomb is due to explode. and it finally went up. it's now a mushroom cloud. and the reactions were very. my uncle, a physicist was fermi's first student in rome and they worked a lot and his uncle was at los alamo. in fact, he was at fermi's side when the bomb went off in his impression, he always tried to imitate fermi but couldn't quite get there, and he thought he remembers
saying all my god, we've set the world on fire. and it's almost impossible that he did it but the reactions were, some of them are on record. oppenheimer remembered the line from the book, oppenheimer remembered the lines from the autobody data scriptures, i am become death the destroyer of worlds. in cambridge another physicist there expressed himself in much more prosaic language. now we are sons of physicists. meanwhile, what was fermi doing? reading from the book. as the blast went off, a second after the blast fermi stood up and began tearing a large piece of paper into small pieces and then dropping them from his upraised hands, 40 seconds
later as the front of the shockwave hit, the mid air pieces were blown a short distance away. in the distance where they landed some feet away, so he consulted a little chart he had prepared beforehand, shortly afterwards fermi told those around them he estimated the blast as 10 tons of tnt. he was right, by the way. it's not exactly but he treated it as another experiment. >> were going to draw this part to a close to you can ask questions so please join me in thanking them. [applause] so we have two people in the isles here with phones, i will remind you this is being recorded so if
you want to raise your hand, just wait until the microphone reaches you. >> what happened to the pile at the university of chicago? >> they took it apart and they rebuilt where they originally wanted to have it in the oregon forest. that was cp one, cp two was developed and increased in the argonne forest site. there are still, we just got an email from a friend of ours at the university of chicago saying he thinks he may have discovered one of the original bricks that they tested . >> the bricks weigh 20 pounds. these are big bricks, graphite bricks area so they are not insignificant in size
and when the construction company basically faked out on the job and the physicists , they got the help incidentally from very strong kids in chicago that were from the neighborhood of the backyards, basically these immigrant kids who help them all the bricks and the high things, 25 feet high and it was big so. >> and it was unheated except for chicago. >> could you stand up please? >> so you've written three books before this and this
was the first time the two of you collaborated, how did you know who wasgoing to write what ? >> i got to write the sexy parts. >> i think you are asking gino, i'll give you my perspective.>> the drafts went back and forth, sometimes if it was primarily physics, i would write the first draft and if it was primarily politics, bettina would write the first draft but they all went back and forth so that's the way it was, at least the way i remember it. >> that's accurate. >> back there?
>> how did the us choose a fascist to head up this project? >> i didn't get that, how did i want? >> how did the united states choose a fascist to head up there project? >> well, there are a couple of ways that the fbi investigated and said these fascists, don't trust them. a professor at chicago on the project told the head of the project, daniel compton said if you want to talk to somebodyabout how to do this , the man you talk to is fermi and he was cleared. >> i think it might be a little unfair to characterize
him as an italian fascist. he belonged to the fascist party, yes. he escaped italy essentially via stockholm. prior to his escape he picked up the nobel prize on his way to the united states so that's the way they had very carefully strategized that, that that would be how they would get out of italy. when he got the nobel prize, he did not give the fascist salute nor did he dress in the uniform of the academy of the royal academy. he was not identifying as a fascist and the newspapers in italy were all over him, the story there was not that he won the nobel, the story was that he had been disrespectful to italy.
they did not regard him as a fascist and he came to this country, he was not regarded as a fascist, he was regarded as an eminent physicist who could get things done and who had been introduced to the united states when he landed with family in new york on january 2 1939. he turned to them beaming and said we had just established the american branch of the fermi family. so i think he didn't identify that way and he was not identified that way even though the army at one point bought him a risk. here he was in the most secret project,he had a bodyguard . he had a name and this was when he was at los alamo's, henry farmer. that was the name he traveled
by. but he was considered a loyal american. >> let me add a footnote to that. the talented university system is a state system so the universities essentially, all of them had our cities and in 1931, all professors were asked to swear their loyalty and basically to join the fascist party. 1200 professors at the time, a 12 refuse them and those were, all 12 were either integrating or work reaching retirement so they felt safe. we don't do this then we will be replaced by people who are really fascists so we should, this is something we should do. so fascism in italy is of
course, was a terriblething . but it's not quite the same i think as not theism was in germany. not theism, it wasn't that terrible. well, let's maybe not talk about that as terrible. okay. right here. in green. >> please stand up so the camera can see you. >> i think it's odd we are talking about fascism. i can't imagine why. but i do wonder at the sort of, a love of physics and it equates and yielding about the world. both in terms of this joining
the party but more in terms of him building a machine that you can't possibly use and then saying let's use it against an enemy whose air force we had already destroyed and bombed at will. conventionally. cause he never thought about what it meant to have an atomic weapon or if he did, it wasn't as much fun as the experiment. i'm wondering about that, sort of in a gingrich ian way. >> i'm going to let you answer this. but i will say that there was a recommendation made by the scientific panel of the interim committee which was,
had other than fermi the three most distinguished physicists who were involved on the project, compton, lawrence and oppenheimer so bettina, take it away. >> i think we alerted to the fact that this was something that bothered us. throughout the book in terms of our own stance and i think part of the challenge for this book in terms of me was trying to look at this person for whom he was and not through my lens always. and if we are attempting for all of us to look at the world as grown men which then of course you have to speak out, and it doesn't apply at all to today but of course you have to speak out.
and here was somebody who was just in a priesthood kind of of physics who didn't feel that way. but i think it's hard to make judgment about this in terms of what it what if this has been arrived at by a country, another country. with a have used it? would london have been a victim of the atomic bomb if fermi had done their first? so there are those questions but it's a complicated answer. i don't have an answer actually, it's complicated but it's one that places today in terms of a threat of nuclear war and how do we handle that? the people in that era had almost two months to discuss this. from what i can understand
anyway, if there is an atomic bomb headed our way through a missile or something we have, i thought it was 10 minutes but the other thing said four minutes to make a decision. these decisions, we don't have a mechanism in place to make them today. >> i would add to that that at the time you said the air force, the japanese air force was destroyed but it was believed there would have to be a land invasion in japan and the losses, large losses that involved in that because there was a japanese forces that wouldfight to the very end . so that was also in that mix of statistics. >> over here. >> given the secrecy and the
number of people who worked on this and the number of government people, they had to know something. what do you know about how the discussion went west and mark did any of those thousands of people say no or leave? >> well, i think there are two questions there in terms of how it was a very secret project and how it so secret and it is amazing to think about because it was academia, government and history, they were all in secret about 100,000 people area they were working on it and yet it was a secret project. so were their discussions? yes, there were discussions at los alamos.
again, prior to even the trinity being successful. there was a scientist at los alamo's, robert wilson who insisted to fermi that to oppenheimer that there be lab wide discussions about this. so that people can air their opinions but the decision-making is such where those work for scientists and they knew about the discussions, they knew about the controversies and knew for better or worse they made their judgment. but it was widely discussed within those if that makes sense, externally people didn't know about it. we haven't even mentioned her and she's quite an amazing person, she didn't know what had happened when fermi came
back from the test in the trinity test, she knew that he had not driven home that night. and whether that was, he was emotionally spent, we don't know but it was rare for him not to be the first wheel but she had no idea what had happened so others, there were mainly wives at los alamos and afterwords, lost almost i think there was initially great jubilation that the war was one and then the horrors of it became known and sank in and there were moral questions that were asked and were debated, lost, most scientists formed
a group called the association of lost animals scientists which an acronym for that, that's called alas. and these were people who were saying we have to figure out what to do about this bomb and fermi did not join that group. >> add to that that you would also ask if anybody left the project and as far as we know , there was only one person who left, a polish physicist who had emigrated to england and came over as part of the english mission, a man known as joseph rosenblatt and he left at the end of 1944 when it was beginning to become clear that the germans did not have the capacity to build the weapon. he was a distinguished
physicists but not one of the majorfigures . he later became a priest, >> maybe one more question. >> quest for his wife not been jewish, had fermi not been jewish, i think there's a possibility he wouldn't have come to the united states? >> no. [laughter] i think he would have,. this is where the science was happening among other things . that the leading scientists from germany who were jewish had come here. the scientists from italy had come here, people were coming here and this was where it was happening and exciting and he really liked the
country so i don't see that he would have stayed in italy . i think that as much as we have emphasized that he was apolitical, i think there would have even been a net for fermi. >> as you know perhaps from philadelphia, italians have strong families. and i think if laura had not been so attached, fermi would have come earlier. he had died in the 20s and physics was as fermi said his priesthood. he would have come earlier if she had not been jewish, would he have left italy? there's the question.
his good friend i'm only did not believe that it would be for much the same reason so as much as he wanted to come to the united states, if laura had not been jewish there would, the study would not have come to the states and the bomb would not have been developed, world war ii, in time for the end of world war ii. >> it's a story full of what gifts. if fermi had discovered fission in 1935 which was a clear possibility, and perhaps the germans would have taken a crash program, developed the bomb which other countries would not have done. and the world would have been different that way but as we
know, life is full of what gifts in this case, the what if's were big mistakes. >> i think the answer and obviously gino and i disagree on this a bit but i think the answer is that he was an extraordinarily complicated man. in his simplicity in some ways and that was a hard thing for us to grasp, it was a hard thing to convey in the book. i hope that we did it in a way that you can make your own judgments about it. >> thank you. [applause] >> the upstairs.