When Atomic Bombs Were Assembled By Hand

A fatal lesson from 70 years ago

Louis Slotin sealed his fate just over 70 years ago. The Canadian physicist, working on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, was conducting an experiment by hand on the core of an atom bomb on May 21st, 1946. He was dead by May 30th. Alex Wellerstein describes Slotin’s work with, and demise at the hands of, a chunk of plutonium dubbed the “demon core”. From Wallerstein’s piece in The New Yorker:

Slotin’s case is a microcosm of the post-war shift from dangerous speed to elaborate caution in nuclear weapons, and the story catches a key moment in 1946, when caution (at least for the scientists involved) won out.

Read the rest at The New Yorker.

This story has been updated to correct the author’s name and the nature of the experiment.

Kelsey D. Atherton
Kelsey D. Atherton

Kelsey D. Atherton is a defense technology journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work on drones, lethal AI, and nuclear weapons has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.