The world has lived under the shadow of nuclear bombs for nearly 50 years, but very few of us have any real notion of what that means. This book gives some of those who know a chance to share their knowledge. Bailey, a science journalist with a knack for making useful information interesting (Keeping Food Fresh, 1985), went to Los Alamos and talked to the men who once set off the nukes. Few of them fit the popular image of bomb-makers; most, in fact, were career scientists who, in their occasional meetings with strategic planners, were shocked at the generals' ignorance of what nuclear war would entail. But at the height of the test program, Los Alamos was one of the few places where certain kinds of science were possible, and every test provided arcane information on the behavior of matter and energy under extreme conditions. (The author witnessed one of the later tests.) While testing ended in 1992, most of the Los Alamos scientists are still at work, searching for new applications for their knowledge. In the Caucasus, a Soviet/American team has set up a complex experiment to search for solar neutrinos. A visit to the VA Hospital in Albuquerque provides a look at the latest diagnostic technology, magnetoencephalography (MEG)which provides a sort of motion picture of the brain in action. The space program also uses nuclear technology: a neutron detector originally designed for the ABM program now orbits Mars, searching for surface water. Most exciting of all is the search for a way to tame the fusion reaction at the heart of the H-bomb for peaceful use. Soviet/American teams have already made giant strides, although the transition from experiment to technology remains a distant dream. Bailey has brought the nuclear scientists to life, given them human faces, and shown how the end of the Cold War has transformed their mission. Readable and thought-provoking.
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