Physics @ Berkeley
Physics in the News
Title: Emilio Segrč: nuclear pioneer
Date: 02/01/2005
Publication: PhysicsWorld
Editor: Herbert Steiner
Extended Text: On the centenary of his birth, Emilio Segrč is remembered for his discovery of the antiproton and several chemical elements, not to mention his knack of bringing physics to life.

"SUDDENLY the whole landscape was inundated by an extremely bright light that looked, and was, much brighter than sunlight at noon. In fact, in a very small fraction of a second, that light, at our distance from the explosion, could cause worse sunburn than exposure for a whole day on a sunny beach. At the moment of the explosion, the thought passed through my mind that maybe the atmosphere was catching fire, causing the end of the world, although I knew that that possibility had been carefully considered and ruled out."

This is how Emilio Segrč described the birth of the atomic age on 15 July 1945. He and Enrico Fermi were lying next to each other on the ground, wearing dark glasses, 10 miles from ground zero when the first atomic bomb exploded. Segrč could not recall what they said to each other at the time, but he remembered that Fermi got up almost immediately and began dropping small scraps of paper to estimate the intensity of the explosion by measuring how far the scraps were moved by the shock wave.

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