While studying the impact of neutrons on uranium atoms, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann inadvertently split the uranium and led to the creation of barium. In asking physicist Lise Meitner what she thought their results could mean an hearing her answer, they realized that in their bombardment of neutrons upon uranium atoms, the atoms had split—nuclear fission.
News spread quickly of the discovery, and scientists in many countries delved deeper into the process. It was when Albert Einstein sent a letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in August 1939 that the United States learned of Germany’s scientific experiments with fission and nuclear chain reactions.
Einstein also said that there was much potential for the Germans, in the course of their research, to find a way to create “extremely powerful bombs.”
Einstein suggested in his letter that the United States secure an adequate supply of uranium ore and that they fund University laboratories to accelerate experimental work on nuclear chain reactions.
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