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Q & A: plutonium anecdotes

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Most recent answer: 03/02/2016
Q:
I need to know a lot about plutonium. I need to find a way to explain the discovery and uses into three pages. if you could list some less used discovery facts and some uncommon uses that'd be lovely.
- morgan (age 19)
manchester, NH, US
A:

What you're looking for is more the collection of facts that can be found on Wikipedia or other encyclopedias. I'll just add a few unfamiliar anecdotes, because a couple of the people most involved in the discovery of how to isolate plutonium (Art Wahl and Joe Kennedy) were close family friends when I was growing up, and my father and a couple of his friends also worked with plutonium during the war. Sorry if the language is a bit vulgar, but these are war stories.

One anecdote concerns how the Los Alamos chemistry group, led by Kennedy, operated. I often think of this story when I see people trying to be rigidly "professional". The first meeting of the group was outdoors. A graduate student named Prestwood brought his dog, who squirmed around in the New Mexico dust. Kennedy interrupted the meeting to say "Prestwood, your dog has worms." Prestwood responded to the leader of the Los Alamos Chemistry and Metallurgy Division "God damn it Kennedy, do I say you have worms every time you scratch your ass?"

Another concerns an event where three chemists (my dad, and his friends Dave and Morrie) had spilled some plutonium in the lab and were (by their own description) running around frantically squawking like chickens. It happened that just then one of the tough G.I.s who had volunteered for special duty arrived and was being shown around. Sergeant Bolnick took a look and asked "Them's the guys that's gonna win this f###g war?"

Mike W.


(published on 03/02/2016)

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