THE late Nobel laureate Professor Richard Feynman in his famous The Feynman Lectures of Physics had mused: "If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? The sentence is 'All things are made of atoms'."
Scientists as a breed have a romantic fascination with the atom. It's their joy and toy. Ted Gottfried in his book, Makes of Modern Sciences, narrates that Dr Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, taught his son Paul the alphabet, he said: "'A' stands for atom; it is so small. No one has ever seen it at all. 'B' stands for bomb; the bombs are much bigger; So brother, do not be too fast on the trigger."
Hungarian-born Edward Teller was described by Gottfried as having green eyes, piercing as laser beams, and thick, bushy eyebrows that moved with his emotions.
He and Dr Richard Feynman were involved in the famous Manhattan Project headed by Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer.
The project was carried out in the strictest military secrecy and succeeded in building the first atomic bombs of the world.
They were supposed to be used against the Germans but later circumstances were such that Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, unfortunately, bore the brunt of the first and second atomic bombings in mankind's history.
Prior to the agonising decision of dropping the bombs, Dr Leo Szilard and six top scientists had recommended to the Fermi-Oppenheimer panel that it would be advisable to demonstrate to the Japanese the awesome destructive power of the atomic bombs instead of dropping them on the people. They were overruled. The rest as they say is history.
In the wake of the fireballs, Oppenheimer was remorseful. He quoted the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita: "Now I am become Death the Destroyer of Worlds!"
He went to see the late President Harry Truman crying out that "blood is on his hands".
Truman told Oppenheimer that blood was not on his hands but his. He told his aides not to allow the "crybaby" to see him again.
Perhaps Oppenheimer should have taken a cue from German-born rocket expert Dr Werner Braun who had famously said: "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department."