December 17, 2008
Smithsonian’s blogging chief Laura Helmuth has a question for the readers of this blog, inspired by Charles Seife’s latest book, Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking.
One of the people discussed in Sun in a Bottle is Edward Teller, best known for his work on the Manhattan Project and as the supposed inspiration for Dr. Strangelove. In Teller’s mind, fusion bombs (which were even more powerful than the fission bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima) were the answer to many of humanity’s problems. Here’s a sampling of some of the “peaceful” applications he foresaw:
Build a new Suez. Dig a new Panama Canal. Cut a waterway across Thailand. Excavate a harbor in North Africa or in Alaska. Blow up rapids to make rivers navigable. Cut trenches to help irrigate crops. Straighten the route of the Santa Fe Railroad. Mine coal and rare minerals. Free oil and gas reserves. “We will change the earth’s surface to suit us,” Teller wrote. Mines and trenches were just the obvious applications. Teller also suggested using hydrogen bombs to change the weather, to melt ice to yield fresh water, and to mass-produce diamonds.
So Laura and I would like to know: What would you do with a fusion bomb?
(And just a side note: Does anyone else notice that you can sing that question to the Klondike ice cream bar jingle?)