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Brian Cathcart

The Fly in the Cathedral

'Splitting the Atom' was a turning point in the progress of physics, and indeed of the world in general. The Fly in the Cathedral tells the story of the work leading up to the success of John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton in 1932.

Splitting the atom in fact refers to splitting the tiny atomic nucleus - the fly within the much bigger cathedral of the atom. In this mostly biographical book Brian Cathcart tells us about the life of not just Cockcroft and Walton, but also of the other scientists involved in the attempt to discover the secrets of the atomic nucleus, and in particular of Ernest Rutherford, who played a significant part in the discovery of the nucleus in 1909. Thus we hear about the rivalry between different research groups, the false starts, and the theory which suggested that an impractical ten million volts would be needed. But then it was seen that if protons were used as the bullets, just 300,000 volts might suffice. This still needed quite an effort to finance and build the equipment, but eventually led to success. Cathcart goes on to show how this was the end of one era and the beginning of a new one - that of Big Science. It's a fascinating book, written by a non-scientist, and so is well worth reading whether or not you have any previous knowledge of physics.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 320 pages  
ISBN: 0374530262
Salesrank: 814282
Weight:0.55 lbs
Published: 2005 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Marketplace:New from $57.95:Used from $7.50
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 308 pages  
ISBN: 0374530262
Salesrank: 2056021
Weight:0.55 lbs
Published: 2005 Farrar Straus Giroux
Marketplace::Used from £19.89
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 308 pages  
ISBN: 0374530262
Salesrank: 3632168
Weight:0.55 lbs
Published: 2006 Farrar Straus & Giroux
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 78.02:Used from CDN$ 9.19
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Product Description
"Cathcart tells this exhilarating story with both verve and precision" --The Sunday Telegraph

Re-creating the frustrations, excitements, and obsessions of 1932, the "miracle year" of British physics, Brian Cathcart reveals in rich detail the astonishing story behind the splitting of the atom. The most celebrated scientific experiment of its time, it would lead to one of mankind's most devastating inventions--the atomic bomb.

All matter is made mostly of empty space. Each of the billions of atoms that comprise it is hollow, its true mass concentrated in a tiny nucleus that, if the atom were a cathedral, would be no bigger than a fly. Discovering its existence three quarters of a century ago was Lord Rutherford's greatest scientific achievement, but even he caught only a glimpse. Almost at the point of despair, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, two young researchers in a grubby basement room at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, grappled with the challenge. Racing against their American and German counterparts-a colorful cast of Nobel Prize winners--they would change everything. With paper-and-pencil calculations, a handmade apparatus, the odd lump of plasticine, and some revolutionary physics, Cockroft and Walton raised the curtain on the atomic age.

The Fly in the Cathedral is a riveting and erudite narrative inspired by the dreams that lead the last true gentlemen scientists to the very essence of the universe: the heart of matter.