A sizable audience showed up for HAGSA member Hank Kocol’s excellent presentation.
Hank spent most of his career as a health physicist—a professional whose job it is to ensure radiological safety for nuclear projects. Thus his familiarity with the Manhattan Project’s history was sufficiently extensive for him to give the entire presentation, filled with scientific and historical information, without the benefit of notes.
Although the Manhattan Project didn’t come into official existence until 1942, the background information included mentions of Lord Kelvin, circa 1895, and the work of atomic physicists like Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassman and Lise Meitner. Lise Meitner, Hank noted, was cheated out of much formal recognition for her work due to gender discrimination.
The Manhattan Project was initiated at the request of, among others, Albert Einstein, who wrote to FDR citing the urgency indicated by Nazi Germany’s apparent work toward the goal of producing an atomic bomb of their own. Ironically, although they provided the motivation for U.S. development of nuclear weaponry, the Nazis dropped their own efforts because Hitler assumed the war would be over by the time results were achieved. The culmination of the project occurred in 1945 when an atomic bomb was tested in New Mexico and two bombs were dropped in Japan, one on Hiroshima and and one on Nagasaki, leading to the Japanese surrender.
Hank’s presentation led to a variety of questions, many having to do with the implications of the Manhattan Project and its underlying technology on current and future events, and clarifications of historical facts.
Report prepared by Brian Jones, Recorder
Hank Kocol has an MS in Chemistry from Purdue University and has worked for the former National Bureau of Standards (now National Institute of Standards and Technology) in Washington, DC, and for the United States Public Health Service laboratory in Las Vegas, NV. He later worked for various federal and state agencies involved in health physics (radiation safety).