Atomic Bomb Design

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By 1939 nuclear scientists had begun to delve seriously into the fission of uranium atoms causing a chain reaction, particularly in the U235 isotope. As a result, vast progress was made in the fields of neutron bombardment, the comparative efforts of slow neutrons versus fast neutrons in sustaining chain reactions, and the possible methods of separating U235 from U238 in natural uranium. Moreover, the possibility of an immense atomic explosion was becoming common knowledge, and calculations for a “critical mass” were just around the corner. As early as the spring of 1942, scientists and leaders across the United States were being exposed to plutonium, courtesy of Glen Seaborg's neutron bombardment of U238. With two unique isotopes of fissionable material at the disposal of the country's greatest minds, it was fitting that two unique atomic weapon designs emerged. The "gun bomb" focused around driving together two sub-critical masses, and the "implosion bomb" relied on a uniform shockwave to compress a plutonium center. Although both designs created the desired bang, they contained very unique features and lent themselves to plutonium and uranium in different ways.
The primary research and design center for the bombs was the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico. The designing of the bombs stemmed from a nuclear chain-reaction that is normally started by an initiator. The initiator injects a burst of neutrons into the fissile core at an appropriate moment (Elbert). The timing of the initiation of the chain reaction is important and must be carefully designed for the weapon to have a predictable yield. A neutron generator emits a burst of neutrons to initiate the chain reaction at the proper moment: near the point of maximum compression in an implosion design or at the complete "assembly point" in the gun design. A tamper is placed around the given nuclear material and acts a…