The Imperial Hotel, London and the conception of the fission atomic bomb

The Imperial Hotel, where Leo Szilard lived in September, 1933, a refuge from the Nazis.  Photo: 22 April 2007.

"In London, where Southhampton Row passes Russell Square, across from the British Museum in Bloomsbury, Leo Szilard waited irritably one gray Depression morning for the stoplight to change.  A trace of rain had fallen during the night; Tuesday, September 12, 1933, dawned cool, humid and dull.  Drizzling rain would begin again in early afternoon.  When Szilard told the story later he never mentioned his destination that morning.  He may have had none; he often walked to think.  In any case another destination intervened.  The stoplight changed to green.  Szilard stepped off the curb.  As he crossed the street time cracked open before him and he saw a way to the future, death into the world and all our woe, the shape of things to come....

"'As the light changed to green and I crossed the street,' Szilard recalls, 'it...suddenly occurred to me that if we could find an element which is split by neutrons and which would emit two neutrons when it absorbs one neutron, such an element, if assembled in sufficiently large mass, could sustain a nuclear chain reaction.'"

Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Gladly Learn Home Page