The Birmingham connection

The Frisch-Peierls Memorandum

Memorandum on the properties of a radioactive “super-bomb”

While researching the screenplay for All That Remains, director’s Ian and Dominic Higgins discovered a strange connection with their home city of Birmingham in the UK, and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

In 1937, German born professor Rudolf Peierls took up a position as Head of Applied Mathematics at Birmingham University.  Two years later he was joined by Otto Robert Frisch, and the two of them began work on atomic research.

In early 1940, while taking a walk through the blacked out city streets, the pair realised how the theoretical possibility of an atomic bomb could be a practical reality.

In March, they typed up the Frisch-Peierls Memorandum in the Nuffield building of the university. The three page report was the first to set out how one could construct an atomic bomb or, as they called it, “a super bomb”, from a small amount of fissionable uranium-235 and calculated that it would be enough to create a temperature equivalent to that of the interior of the sun.

The memorandum opens with:

Strictly Confidential

Memorandum on the properties of a radioactive “super-bomb”

The attached detailed report concerns the possibility of constructing a “super-bomb” which utilizes the energy stored in atomic nuclei as a source of energy. The energy liberated in the explosion of such a super-bomb is about the same as that produced by the explosion of 1000 tons of dynamite. This energy is liberated in a small volume, in which it will, for an instant, produce a temperature comparable to that in the interior of the sun. The blast from such an explosion would destroy life in a wide area. The size of this area is difficult to estimate, but it will probably cover the centre of a big city.

In addition, some part of the energy set free by the bomb goes to produce radioactive substances, and these will emit very powerful and dangerous radiations. The effect of these radiations is greatest immediately after the explosion, but it decays only gradually and even for days after the explosion any person entering the affected area will be killed.

Some of this radioactivity will be carried along with the wind and will spread the contamination; several miles downwind this may kill people.

The findings presented in the paper, became an important trigger in the establishment of the Manhattan Project in the United States, and the subsequent development of the atomic bombs dropped on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“When working on a project, we always look for any connections we may have with the story, as it helps make it feel more personal”, said Dominic.

“This one was a real surprise though,” adds Ian. “To think, in a way, the story of the atomic bombing really began in Birmingham”.

The directors have decided the film will now contain a short scene depicting this connection.

Peierls at work

Peierls at work

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