MAUD Committee

MAUD Committee

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The MAUD Committee was the beginning of the British atomic bomb project, before the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 joined forces with the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

.

Frisch & Peierls


During February 1940 Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls
Rudolf Peierls
Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE was a German-born British physicist. Rudolf Peierls had a major role in Britain's nuclear program, but he also had a role in many modern sciences...

, working at the University of Birmingham
University of Birmingham
The University of Birmingham is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Birmingham, England. It received its royal charter in 1900 as a successor to Birmingham Medical School and Mason Science College . Birmingham was the first Redbrick university to gain a charter and thus...

 in the UK, considered the possibility of fast fission in uranium-235
Uranium-235
- References :* .* DOE Fundamentals handbook: Nuclear Physics and Reactor theory , .* A piece of U-235 the size of a grain of rice can produce energy equal to that contained in three tons of coal or fourteen barrels of oil. -External links:* * * one of the earliest articles on U-235 for the...

. They estimated the critical mass
Critical mass
A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The critical mass of a fissionable material depends upon its nuclear properties A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The...

 of pure U-235 was only "a pound or two", and that much of this mass would react before the rest was blown away by the explosion. They estimated the likely effects of the bomb, possible methods of assembly and made estimates on how feasible it was to separate the uranium-235.
They prepared a memorandum, the Frisch-Peierls memorandum
Frisch-Peierls memorandum
The Frisch–Peierls memorandum was written by Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls while they were both working at the University of Birmingham, England. The memorandum contained new calculations about the size of the critical mass needed for an atomic bomb, and helped accelerate British and U.S...

, on their discovery and gave a copy to their professor, Marcus Oliphant, who gave it to Henry Tizard
Henry Tizard
Sir Henry Thomas Tizard FRS was an English chemist and inventor and past Rector of Imperial College....

, the chairman of the Committee on the Scientific Survey of Air Defence, which was the most important scientific committee for defence in Britain.

First meetings


At Tizard's behest, the MAUD Committee first met on 10 April 1940 to consider Britain's actions regarding the "uranium problem".
A research programme concerning isotope separation and fast fission was agreed upon. During June 1940 Franz Simon
Francis Simon
Sir Francis Simon, born Franz Eugen Simon , was a German and later British physical chemist and physicist who devised the method, and confirmed its feasibility, of separating the isotope Uranium-235 and thus made a major contribution to the creation of the atomic bomb.-Early life:He was born to a...

 was commissioned to research on isotope separation through gaseous diffusion. Ralph H. Fowler
Ralph H. Fowler
Sir Ralph Howard Fowler OBE FRS was a British physicist and astronomer.-Education:Fowler was initially educated at home but then attended Evans' preparatory school at Horris Hill and Winchester College...

 was also asked to send the progress reports to Lyman Briggs in America from that date.

The MAUD Committee acquired its code name during June 1940. It was taken from; Military Application of Uranium Detonation

Previously it had been thought that the acronym arose when Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner FRS was an Austrian-born, later Swedish, physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize...

 sent a telegram to a friend in England concluding with "Tell Cockcroft
John Cockcroft
Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM KCB CBE FRS was a British physicist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for splitting the atomic nucleus with Ernest Walton, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power....

 and Maud Ray Kent". Initially this "Maud" could not be identified, and it was concluded that it was a coded message which linked with a previous phrase in the letter which read "radium taken". In 1943, Maud Ray, who had been Bohr's children's former governess, was found living in Kent. Meanwhile it was assumed the Ministry had named the committee in honour of the presumed codeword 'MAUD'.
The MAUD Committee consisted of:
  • Sir George Paget Thomson
    George Paget Thomson
    Sir George Paget Thomson, FRS was an English physicist and Nobel laureate in physics recognised for his discovery with Clinton Davisson of the wave properties of the electron by electron diffraction.-Biography:...

    , Chairman
  • Marcus Oliphant
  • Patrick Blackett
  • James Chadwick
    James Chadwick
    Sir James Chadwick CH FRS was an English Nobel laureate in physics awarded for his discovery of the neutron....

  • Philip Moon
    Philip Moon
    Philip Burton Moon FRS was a British nuclear physicist. He is most remembered for his research work in atomic physics and nuclear physics. He is one of the British scientist who participated in United States Manhattan Project, Tube Alloys and was involved in nuclear weapon development. Dr. P.B...

  • John Cockcroft
    John Cockcroft
    Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM KCB CBE FRS was a British physicist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for splitting the atomic nucleus with Ernest Walton, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power....



Although the original work had been done by Frisch and Peierls, one was German, one was Austrian and so were "officially" classified as "enemy aliens" and could not be a part of a wartime committee. (Later they both made significant contributions at Los Alamos
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 as part of the British Mission.)

The reports


Franz Simon completed his work on isotopic separation in December 1940, concluding that it was possible. This included cost estimates and technical specifications for a large uranium enrichment plant. James Chadwick wrote later that at that time he "realised that a nuclear bomb was not only possible, it was inevitable. I had then to start taking sleeping pills. It was the only remedy."

During March 1941 the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) at the Carnegie Institution measured the fast cross-section
Nuclear cross section
The nuclear cross section of a nucleus is used to characterize the probability that a nuclear reaction will occur. The concept of a nuclear cross section can be quantified physically in terms of "characteristic area" where a larger area means a larger probability of interaction...

 of U-235. Using it, Peierls calculated a new critical mass for U-235 at 18 pounds as a bare sphere, or 9-10 pounds when surrounded by a reflector
Neutron reflector
A neutron reflector is any material that reflects neutrons. This refers to elastic scattering rather than to a specular reflection. The material may be graphite, beryllium, steel, and tungsten carbide, or other materials...

. A report was produced during the same month by the MAUD Committee, describing the importance of fast fission for bomb design and a copy was sent to the Uranium Committee in the USA. The secretary of the committee, Lyman Briggs, locked up the document on arrival in March 1941 and did not show it to anyone.

The MAUD Report dismissed plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 production, thermal diffusion, the electromagnetic method, and the centrifuge and recommended gaseous diffusion of uranium-235 on a massive scale. The British believed that uranium research could result in the production of a bomb in time to affect the outcome of the war. While the MAUD Report was supposed to provide encouragement to Americans by advocating a larger uranium research programme, it also served as a reminder that fission had been discovered in Nazi Germany almost three years earlier and that since the spring of 1940 a large part of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute
Kaiser Wilhelm Institute
The Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science was a German scientific institution established in 1911. It was implicated in Nazi science, and after the Second World War was wound up and its functions replaced by the Max Planck Society...

 in Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 had been dedicated for uranium research.

Telling the USA


After months of growing pressure from scientists in Britain and in the US (particularly Berkeley's Ernest Lawrence
Ernest Lawrence
Ernest Orlando Lawrence was an American physicist and Nobel Laureate, known for his invention, utilization, and improvement of the cyclotron atom-smasher beginning in 1929, based on his studies of the works of Rolf Widerøe, and his later work in uranium-isotope separation for the Manhattan Project...

), Vannevar Bush
Vannevar Bush
Vannevar Bush was an American engineer and science administrator known for his work on analog computing, his political role in the development of the atomic bomb as a primary organizer of the Manhattan Project, the founding of Raytheon, and the idea of the memex, an adjustable microfilm viewer...

 at the National Defense Research Committee
National Defense Research Committee
The National Defense Research Committee was an organization created "to coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare" in the United States from June 27, 1940 until June 28, 1941...

 (NDRC) decided to review the prospects of nuclear energy further and engaged Arthur Compton
Arthur Compton
Arthur Holly Compton was an American physicist and Nobel laureate in physics for his discovery of the Compton effect. He served as Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis from 1945 to 1953.-Early years:...

 and the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

. Their report was issued 17 May 1941 but did not address the design or manufacture of a bomb in any detail.

On 15 July 1941 the MAUD Committee approved its two final reports and disbanded. One report was on 'Use of Uranium for a Bomb' and the other was on 'Use of Uranium as a Source of Power'. The first report concluded that a bomb was feasible, describing it in technical detail, providing specific proposals for developing a bomb and including cost estimates. It said that a bomb would contain about 12 kg of active material which would be equivalent to 1,800 tons of TNT and would release large quantities of radioactive substances which would make places near the explosion site dangerous to humans for a long period. It estimated that a plant to produce 1 kg of U-235 per day would cost £5 million and would require a large skilled labour force that was also needed for other parts of the war effort. It suggested that the Germans could also be working on such a bomb, and so it recommended that the work should be continued with high priority in cooperation with the Americans, even though they seemed to be concentrating on the future use of uranium for power and naval propulsion.

The second MAUD Report concluded that the controlled fission of uranium could be used to provide energy in the form of heat for use in machines, as well as providing large quantities of radioisotopes which could be used as substitutes for radium
Radium
Radium is a chemical element with atomic number 88, represented by the symbol Ra. Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, becoming black in color. All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226,...

. It referred to the use of heavy water
Heavy water
Heavy water is water highly enriched in the hydrogen isotope deuterium; e.g., heavy water used in CANDU reactors is 99.75% enriched by hydrogen atom-fraction...

 and possibly graphite as moderators for the fast neutrons.
It concluded that the 'uranium boiler' (i.e., a nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

) had considerable promise for future peaceful uses but that it was not worth considering during the present war. The Committee recommended that Hans von Halban
Hans von Halban
Hans von Halban was a French physicist, of Austrian-Jewish descent.- Family :He was descended on his father's side from Polish Jews, who left Kraków for Vienna in the 1850s...

 and Lew Kowarski
Lew Kowarski
Lew Kowarski was a naturalized French physicist, of Russian-Polish descent. He was a lesser known but important contributor to nuclear science.-Early life:...

 should move to the USA where there were plans to make heavy water on a large scale. The possibility that plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 might be more suitable than U-235 was mentioned, and it suggested that this work should be continued in Britain.

Britain was at war and felt an atomic bomb was urgent; the USA was not at war. It was Marcus Oliphant who activated the American programme. Oliphant flew to the United States during late August 1941 in an unheated bomber, ostensibly to discuss the radar programme, but was actually tasked to find out why the United States was ignoring the MAUD Committee's findings. Oliphant reported: "The minutes and reports had been sent to Lyman Briggs, who was the Director of the Uranium Committee, and we were puzzled to receive virtually no comment. I called on Briggs in Washington, only to find out that this inarticulate and unimpressive man had put the reports in his safe and had not shown them to members of his committee. I was amazed and distressed."

Oliphant then met with the Uranium Committee
S-1 Uranium Committee
The S-1 Uranium Committee was a Committee of the National Defense Research Committee that succeeded the Briggs Advisory Committee on Uranium and later evolved into the Manhattan Project.- World War II begins :...

. Samuel K. Allison
Samuel King Allison
Samuel King Allison was an American physicist, most notable for his role in the Manhattan Project — where among other things he read the countdown for the detonation of the "Trinity" test — and his postwar work in the "scientists' movement".-Biography:Samuel K...

 was a new committee member, a talented experimentalist and a protege of Arthur Compton
Arthur Compton
Arthur Holly Compton was an American physicist and Nobel laureate in physics for his discovery of the Compton effect. He served as Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis from 1945 to 1953.-Early years:...

 at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. Oliphant "came to a meeting," Allison recalls, "and said 'bomb' in no uncertain terms. He told us we must concentrate every effort on the bomb and said we had no right to work on power plants or anything but the bomb. The bomb would cost 25 million dollars, he said, and Britain did not have the money or the manpower, so it was up to us." Allison was surprised that Briggs had kept the information secret from the committee.

Oliphant then visited his friend Ernest Lawrence
Ernest Lawrence
Ernest Orlando Lawrence was an American physicist and Nobel Laureate, known for his invention, utilization, and improvement of the cyclotron atom-smasher beginning in 1929, based on his studies of the works of Rolf Widerøe, and his later work in uranium-isotope separation for the Manhattan Project...

, James Conant
James Conant
James Conant may refer to:* James Bryant Conant , American chemist and educational administrator* James F. Conant , American philosopher...

 and Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi was an Italian-born, naturalized American physicist particularly known for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics...

 to explain the urgency. Lawrence then also contacted James Conant and Arthur Compton
Arthur Compton
Arthur Holly Compton was an American physicist and Nobel laureate in physics for his discovery of the Compton effect. He served as Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis from 1945 to 1953.-Early years:...

. During December 1941, Vannevar Bush created the larger and more powerful Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), which was empowered to engage in large engineering projects in addition to research, and became its director, resulting in the creation of the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

. Meanwhile in Britain a separate nuclear bomb programme continued with the code name Tube Alloys
Tube Alloys
Tube Alloys was the code-name for the British nuclear weapon directorate during World War II, when the development of nuclear weapons was kept at such a high level of secrecy that it had to be referred to by code even in the highest circles of government...

.

Russia's interest


During 1943 the NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 obtained a copy of the final report by the MAUD Committee. This caused Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 to order the start of a Soviet programme, but with very limited resources. Igor Kurchatov
Igor Kurchatov
Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov , was a Soviet nuclear physicist who is widely known as the director of the Soviet atomic bomb project. Along with Georgy Flyorov and Andrei Sakharov, Kurchatov is widely remembered and dubbed as the "father of the Soviet atomic bomb" for his directorial role in the...

 was appointed director of the nascent programme later that year.

Legacy


Both the Frisch-Peierls memorandum & the MAUD Committee were milestones in the race for the secret of an atomic weapon. Leo Szilard
Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd was an Austro-Hungarian physicist and inventor who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb...

 always credited the British with being the first to recognize that one could separate enough U235 for a weapon and for alerting the Americans to this possibility. Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Oppenheimer
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist and professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with Enrico Fermi, he is often called the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II project that developed the first...

later admitted that the committee alone transformed the American program from a series of desultory committees to a more focused concentrated effort. The committee also had a major influencing factor for the future of British nuclear power.

External links