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Unpublished Paper
ANTICIPATING THE ATOM: POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF ATOMIC POWER BEFORE HIROSHIMA
(1994)
  • Jacques d'Emal, Utah Valley University
Abstract
Before Hiroshima made the Bomb an object of popular concern, possible implications and applications of atomic physics had been discussed in the public forum. The new science of X-rays and radium promised the possibilities of unlimited energy and the transmutation of elements in the two decades leading up to World War I. During the twenties, as scientific method struggled to keep pace with atomic theory, discussion centered on the feasibility of atomic disintegration as an energy source and the many uses of radium. The 1927 case of the New Jersey Radium Dial Painters, who sued their employers for compensation after contracting radium poisoning, revealed a dark side to the new science, that, along with the development of artificial radioactive isotopes by the Joliot-Curies in Paris, and, in Italy, Enrico Fermi's neutron bombardment experiments, sobered attitudes toward the ever-increasing probability of atomic power. When Otto Hahn finally split the atom in 1938, it opened the way to the practical industrial use of atomic fission, and stimulated a flurry of newspaper and magazine articles before World War II brought about censorship. Popular entertainment through 1945 reflects the extent to which atomic power had entered the public awareness. Atomic themes and motifs appeared in English language fiction as early as 1895, as did discussions of the social implications of the new science. Such popular culture imagery, including motion pictures and comic book superheroes, that presented the atom to mass audiences provide insight into the popular perceptions at the time, and to the shaping of attitudes toward the Bomb after Hiroshima.
Disciplines
Publication Date
August, 1994
Citation Information
Jacques d'Emal. "ANTICIPATING THE ATOM: POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF ATOMIC POWER BEFORE HIROSHIMA" (1994)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jacques_demal/1/