The How And Why Wonder Book Of Atomic Energy (With Cool Illustrations)


This 1970 publication for young people is actually pretty good. It’s good for anyone, of any age, who would like to understand the workings of atomic power/energy.

Click on the book above to open a small reader. Clicking on that one will get the full screen view. Just hit escape on your keyboard or tap the arrows at the lower right of the screen to return to the page.


Iron Crystal Magnified – The Atomium

Construction of the Atomium

Construction of the Atomium, the Belgian pavilion for the World Expo 58 in Brussels, Belgium, 1957. Photo by Dolf Kruger.

Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak, it stands 102 m (335 ft) tall. Its nine 18 m (59 ft) diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.  –

(via Dequalized)

LSD: A Trip Down Memory Lane

LSD25 Manufactured by Sandoz Laboratories - Basel, Switzerland

LSD25 Manufactured by Sandoz Laboratories – Basel, Switzerland

Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life.  ~~Steve Jobs

In 1956 this unnamed American housewife took LSD at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Los Angeles. This woman’s husband was an employee at the hospital and referred her to this study, which was reportedly done for a television program on mental health issues.

When Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman first synthesized LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) at the Sandoz laboratories in Basel, Switzerland on November 16, 1938, he felt that the compound wasn’t useful for the project at hand. He set it aside in the slush-pile. Five years later, April 16, 1943, Hoffman felt compelled to take another look at his abandoned discovery. John Beresford writes:

Hofmann is not sure – the chemist in the old Sandoz lab had what he called a “Vorgefühl.” The usual English word for this is “presentiment,” but the German word suggests something stronger than the laid-back “presentiment.” Something was telling Hofmann to retrace his steps and perform a new synthesis of the discarded molecule, LSD-25. It had to be that molecule and not one of the others consigned to the “useless” pile…

Hofmann does not remember what he was doing when the “presentiment” came over him. He won’t say if it came in a dream, or if he was in a state of unusual lucidity. One is free to speculate that the “instruction” to re-synthesize LSD came from a spiritual power which intervenes in the affairs of man to restore order when the danger of disorder has become too great. The reckless act of science in Chicago in December, 1942 (the first successful nuclear chain reaction – ed.) was remedied in Basel four months later, with Albert Hofmann chosen as the instrument to perform the cure.

 Before LSD, After LSD -  Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist (1906-2008)

Before LSD, After LSD – Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist (1906-2008)

Whatever the case, while re-synthesizing the LSD, Hofmann accidentally absorbed a small amount of the drug through his fingertips and discovered its powerful effects.

…affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After about two hours this condition faded away.

Three days later (April 19) Hofmann decided to intentionally take an experimental dose in order to delve deeper into the true effects of LSD. He (wrongly) determined that ingesting 0.25 milligrams (250 micrograms) would be a threshold dose – in actuality a threshold dose is 20 micrograms. Needless to say, Hoffman went a pretty massive trip. Within an hour he began to experience sudden and intense changes to his perception. He asked his lab assistant to accompany him home and, as it was wartime and cars were not an option, the two set out for their destination on bicycles.

At first Hofmann experienced extreme hallucinations and feelings of anxiety and paranoia. But then:

…little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux …

April 19 wold become what is known as Bicycle Day in psychedelic communities and celebrated as the day of discovery for LSD.

LSD blotter paper depicting Albert Hoffman on Bicycle Day

LSD blotter paper depicting Albert Hoffman on Bicycle Day

After sharing this information with colleagues, as well as the experience, LSD-25 became the focus for all kinds of mind-centered experiments. Was it useful as a tool in psychiatry? Could the CIA use it as a pharmaceutical in Mind Control (MK-ULTRA)? Could LSD be used to treat alcoholism and/or autism?

In 1955 a former OSS operative and then Federal Bureau of Narcotics agent named George Hunter White teamed up with the CIA to run what was known as Operation Midnight Climax – a brothel was set up on Chestnut street in the San Francisco Bay area and unsuspecting Johns behavior was observed after they were secretly dosed. Several significant operational techniques were developed in this theater, including extensive research into sexual blackmail, surveillance technology, and the possible use of mind-altering drugs in field operations. This operation was carried out for a decade, 1955-1965. Many suspect that this is how LSD became introduced to civilians on the street and became a catalyst for the psychedelic anti-war culture of the 1960s.

Psychedelic Eye

A whole lot more could be written about the 1960s LSD experience such as the colorful characters, the gurus, the communities, etc., but that’s beyond the scope of this post. Covered here was a short trip down memory lane to the beginnings of a drug that appeared at the dawn of the nuclear age – a time when splitting an atom could blow the world away, and sipping down a molecule could blow the mind away. LSD became illegal in California on October 6, 1966. Other U.S. states and the rest of the world followed with the ban. Like the atom bomb, LSD has faded from social consciousness, but also like the atom bomb, LSD still lurks in the background. Time will tell if another moment will come when they explode back to the front of public awareness.

‘The Story Of America’s Man-In-Space Programs’ – General Dynamics’ 1964 Super Space Cards Deck

General Dynamics Astronautics Space Cards - Joker: Sun, Moon, Planetary Symbols, and Superman!

General Dynamics Astronautics Space Cards – Joker: Sun, Moon, Planetary Symbols, and Superman!

These space cards tell a story – the story of America’s man-in-space programs. The hearts deal with the human element, the clubs portray the sciences, the spades show products and the diamonds depict modern aerospace management without which the other three elements could not be successful.

General Dynamics Astronautics Space Cards
Manufacturer: National Periodical Publications, Inc.
Date: 1964

Click on images to enlarge.

Ace of Hearts - Vitruvian Man

Ace of Hearts – Vitruvian Man

Two of Hearts - Buck Rogers (As a salute to human imagination and sci-fi)

Two of Hearts – Buck Rogers

Two cards from the suit of Hearts representing the human element: Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Buck Rogers – human physical being and human imagination. With the Two of Hearts, General Dynamics recognizes the important influence of the science fiction genre as inspiration for developments in modern space exploration.

The Ace of Clubs - The Sciences

Ace of Clubs – The Sciences

Two of Clubs - Leonardo da Vinci and a few samples of his flying machines

Two of Clubs – Leonardo da Vinci

Two cards from the suit of Clubs representing the sciences: The Ace of Clubs features an illustration reminiscent of those referred to in the 19th century pseudoscience of phrenology – rather than assigning various functions to different parts of the brain, this card highlights various fields of science relevant to space travel. The Two of Clubs features an image of Leonardo da Vinci with a few of his familiar flying machine designs.

The Ace Of Spades - Rocket Launch

Ace Of Spades – Rocket Launch

The Two Of Spades - Hot Air Balloon

Two Of Spades – Hot Air Balloon

Two Cards from the suit of Spades representing products – The Ace of Spades features a rocket launch reminiscent of NASA’s Project Mercury and the lift off of Friendship 7 carrying John Glenn, the first United States astronaut to orbit the Earth. General Dynamics’ Convair division designed and produced the Atlas boosters used in the launch. The Two of Spades features a hot air balloon – the grandaddy of flight and aerial transportation. In 1783 brothers Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier succeeded in launching the first manned ascent from Earth – Étienne was lifted off in the Montgolfièr hot air balloon, globe aérostatique.

The Ace Of Diamonds - Flow Chart

Ace Of Diamonds – Management Flow Chart

The Two Of Diamonds - Communications

Two Of Diamonds – Communications

The suit of Diamonds is meant to depict modern aerospace management – and they are the most curious and enigmatic. They are wonderful representations of the Cold-War/Space-Race era. The illustrations utilize symbols to relate this part of the story making the message more subliminal. They also reflect the kind of protective secrecy that was so much a part of that era. The Ace Of Diamonds shows a flow chart suggesting the various areas of aerospace management. The third vertical row has a number of squares contained in the top square – a committee leadership governing this area, or a bureaucracy heading a bureaucracy? At the top of the flow chart flies the U.S. flag – that symbol could mean different things to different folks, depending on a persons cynicism and/or sentimentalism. The two of Diamonds shows an antique telephone and an inkwell – rather primitive devices chosen to portray ‘modern aerospace’ communications.

Below are a few favorites from the deck without descriptions. See what they bring to your mind.

The Nine Of Hearts

The Ten Of Hearts

The Six Of Clubs

The Eight Of Clubs

The Jack Of Spades

The Queen Of Spades

The Nine Of Diamonds

The King Of Diamonds

(Card deck images via Unkee E.)

To Look A Demon In The Eye: Nuclear Tests and Rapatronic Imaging


For the early nuclear weapons scientists, being able to observe the rapidly changing matter in nuclear explosions was vital to their understanding of the phenomena and the effects. Several aspects of the blast (e.g. the blinding light, the speed of the nuclear reaction in the bomb, and the need to be miles away from the detonation) made it very difficult to capture the initial stages on film.

In 1947 the Atomic Energy Commission contracted innovative photographic engineer Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton and two colleagues, Kenneth Germeshausen and Herbert Grier – their mission, improve imaging results.

By 1950 EG&G, Inc. had invented a device capable of capturing images from the fleeting instant directly following a nuclear explosion. Enter the rapatronic (for Rapid Action Electronic) shutter – a shutter with no moving parts that could be opened and closed by turning a magnetic field on and off.

Magneto-optic shutter, for micro-second photography (e.g. Rapatronic camera); 1952

Magneto-optic shutter, for micro-second photography (i.e. Rapatronic camera), 1952 – Photograph via Edgerton Digital Collections (cc)

The single-use rapatronic cameras were able to snap a photo one millisecond after detonation – at times even less – from about seven miles away. The duration of the exposure was as little as two microseconds.

The resulting images were eerie and fascinating.

This is an image of a 'shot cab' - the housing at the top of the tower that contains the explosive device.

This is an image of a ‘shot cab’ – the housing at the top of the tower that contains the explosive device. (Photo via Edgerton Digital Collections)

This is a rapatronic image of a at the moment of atomic bomb explosion. The cab appears to be fluorescing with X-Ray energy making it transparent. (Taken at Eniwetok, ca. 1952)

This is a rapatronic image of a ‘shot cab’ at the moment of an atomic bomb explosion. The cab appears to be fluorescing with X-Ray energy making it transparent. Blogger James Vaughn at ATOMIC-ANNIHILATION made this comment: …the most prominent feature is in the middle-upper (left) which looks like a giant friggin’ eye! Is that the ‘device’ caught in some weird moment of percolating itself into and out of existence before it becomes an … atomic explosion?  (Photo via Edgerton Digital Collections, taken at Eniwetok, c. 1952)

The explosion of  Boltzmann (30 K) during Operation Plumbbomb.

The detonation of Boltzmann (12 kt)) during Operation Plumbbob – 28 May 1957. In this rapatronic image the spikes below the fireball are the shot tower support cables vaporizing as they absorb thermal radiation – known as the ‘rope trick’ effect. (Photo via sonicbomb)

Operation Plumbbomb's Priscilla Detonation Image

The detonation of Priscilla (37 kt) during Operation Plumbbob – 24 June 1957. Instead of being housed in a shot cab, the Priscilla device was held 700 feet aloft by a balloon with steel cable mooring. This rapatronic image captures the burst of explosive and thermal energy equivalent to 37.000 tons of TNT. The ‘rope trick’ spikes are prominent and dramatic. The spots are fragments of the bomb casing ‘splashing’ against the inside of the expanding shock front. (Photo via sonicbomb)

The detonation of How (14kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper - 5 June 1952.

The detonation of How (14 kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper – 5 June 1952. This rapatronic image captures the expanding plasma ball in all its monstrous majesty. The heat generated through the ‘rope trick’ effect caused the desert floor to turn to glass. (Photo via sonicbomb)

The detonation of How (14kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper - 5 June 1952. In another millionth of a second after the previous rapatronic image, a planet of fire exists,  silhouetting and dwarfing the Joshua Trees.

The detonation of How (14 kt) during Operation Tumbler-Snapper – 5 June 1952. A millisecond after the previous image, another rapatronic captures a different picture of the detonation. A globe of fire emerges. The Joshua trees silhouetted at the base of the rapidly expanding explosion will quickly be engulfed by the shock and heat waves and incinerated. (Photo via sonicbomb)

The detonation of Mohawk (360 kt) during Operation Redwing - 3 July 1956.

The detonation of Mohawk (360 kt) during Operation Redwing – 3 July 1956. The thermonuclear Mohawk was a more powerful device than the above three combined. This rapatronic image captures the burst of explosive and thermal energy equivalent to 360.000 tons of TNT. The cloud rose to 65,000ft/~20km. The plasma colossus resembles some sort of strange living organism. (Photo via AtomCentral)

The Mohawk detonation heavily contaminated the island (of Eberiru /Ruby) and strong radiation was detected on the north end of the (Enewetak) atoll, strong enough to fog the film of photographs taken by aircraft in the area. Recovery operations were delayed for several days as a result of the high radiation levels.  – sonicbomb

With the assistance of EG&G’s rapatronic shutter the scientists studying the Mohawk blast were able to clearly see the embryonic demon that was unleashed that day. The experiments continued on with the discharge of devices even more powerful. The scientists had become like wizards, charmed by their own sorcery.

Have You Ever Heard About ‘Gamma Gardens’ And The ‘Atomic Gardening’ Fad?

The first public showing of an ‘atomic garden’ took place on March 4, 1961 at the Home and Flower Show in Cleveland, Ohio - (Photo by Frank Scherschel for Life)

The first public showing of an ‘atomic garden’ took place on March 4, 1961 at the Home and Flower Show in Cleveland, Ohio – (Photo:  Frank Scherschel for LIFE Magazine)

The ‘atomic gardening fad’ was part of the ‘Atoms For Peace‘ program – it occurred during the late 50s to the mid-60s. Citizen gardeners, were encouraged to compete with one another in the field of radiation-induced mutagenesis – using irradiated seeds for plants and crops in order to mutate the offspring to make them bigger, more colorful, more resistant to disease and parasites, or to enhance fitness in stressful environmental conditions, such as drought, frost, or poor soils.

Dr. Speas' Atomic Seed Advert

Dr. Speas’ Atomic Seed Advert, Chicago Daily Tribune (Graphic via LSF Magazine)

In 1960 dentist-turned-entrepreneur, Clarence J. Speas, founded Oak Ridge Atom Industries, Inc. to sell ‘atomic’ products. Speas, via Oak Ridge, became a major player in the citizen ‘atomic gardening fad’ – to encourage interest, Oak Ridge sponsored a contest for the ‘most unusual plant’ with a prize of $3,000 and agreed to ‘purchase or pay royalties on new varieties deemed to have commercial value.’

This atomic age fad has pretty much faded from history and is usually only referred to in relation to contemporary arguments that surround the use of GMOs by major corporate players like Monsanto.  Supporters for the use of GMOs argue that genetic modification of plants and crops is a part of agricultural history for thousands of years – the ‘atomic garden fad’ is an example of how state, corporate, and citizen cooperation can go a long way in viable research through understanding and acceptance of this fact. Those more suspicious of corporate GMO research and implementation of genetically modified plants and crops point out that the ‘atomic garden fad’ was a rare moment of open and shared information between science and the citizen – today’s genetic-modification programs are sheltered from discussion by copyright claims and intellectual property privacy.

Nanotechnology researcher and gardening enthusiast, Paige Johnson, hopes to shed some new light on this mid-century fad. From her research so far she notes that very little information is available about the results related to the citizen gardening. It’s possible that the government may have some research data but it is not easily found. An interesting 2011 interview is posted at the Pruned website here.

It’s interesting to note that while the atomic backyard gardening fad pretty much faded from public attention in the mid-60s, no one is quite sure how many irradiated seeds are still in circulation, or if and how many smaller crops are offspring from generations of genetically modified parents. Also, large scale radiation breeding never actually stopped and is now experiencing a renaissance due to the introduction of ‘new methods that speed up the identification of mutants.’ Below is a photo of the world’s largest ‘gamma garden’ located in Hitachiohmiya, Japan. It has an ‘88.8 Terabecquerel Cobalt-60 source, ringed by a 3,608-foot radius Gamma field, and a 28-foot high shield dike around the perimeter.’

Aerial view of the Institute of Radiation Breeding, Hitachiohmiya, Japan

Aerial view of the Institute of Radiation Breeding, Hitachiohmiya, Japan (Photo via Edible Geography)

Info and Photographic Resources:
Life Science Foundation
Edible Geography

Modified Biological Entities Or Cybernetic Man – A 1963 Discussion On Space Travel

Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Dehumanized and drugged, transistorized and plugged with electronic replacements for natural parts, a spaceman might survive. But would you still think of him as human?

The illustration above is from the November, 1963, issue of Popular Science magazine. The article is credited to Toby Freedman. M.D., and Gerald S. Lindner, M.D.. It’s a discussion about adapting man for space travel and exploration, and it’s remarkably dramatic. Below are the last few paragraphs from the article. If you’re curious enough to read the full article this link will take you to the terrific Modern Mechanix webpage for your enjoyment.

More profound is the biological approach, which seeks to understand adaptive mechanisms in other forms of life and apply them to man. Instead of hooking up a transistorized organ, the object here is to enable the subject to grow one. This is not as inaccessible as it sounds. Remove one kidney and the other one grows large to sustain the load.

Wonders or horrors? What guide can we look for to direct us in the development of these new powers? For if we can raise people’s general performance with stimulants, we can also reduce them to automatons with depressants, and dissociate them with hallucinating drugs. We can interchange their organs or intercept their heredity by scrambling their DNA. In short, we can alter them in any direction, letting loose in the world forces more powerful and menacing than anything that came out of the atom.

As in the case of the atom, are we going to back into this and find ourselves facing catastrophe without a policy? I have no answers to this question – simply a plea that we start thinking about it.

Let us plan to improve man as we modify him. Let us, while taking over from nature, follow her lead. The keynote is gradual improvement. We should try to optimize those capacities and abilities man already has, by all means available, but avoid radically tampering with the basic mechanism.

In contrast to the astronaut who accomplishes his space mission at the cost of trading most of his physiological systems for electronic ones, whose mouth is sealed, his lungs collapsed, his body wastes recycled through himself, his neural pathways partly severed, and his emotions dissected out we see another. We envision a man who looks quite normal, but who has been adapted to the oxygen requirements of a Himalayan Sherpa, the heat resistance of a walker-on-coals; who needs less food than a hermit, has the strength of Sonny Liston, and runs the mile in three, minutes flat while solving problems in tensor analysis in his head. We call him Optiman, and we think we can make him in the near future.

It we don’t, the Russians will.

(h/t to Sweet Dreams‘ Tumblr for the tip)