Emeritus Professor David Wolfe, University of New Mexico

Physicists had known since the 1920s that the fusion of hydrogen into helium is the energy source of the Sun and other stars. It was only in 1938, with the discovery of nuclear fission, that atomic bombs became possible. In 1942 it was believed that a fission weapon would be simple to develop and that work on a hydrogen bomb might be completed before the end of the war. Instead, it preoccupied scientists for several years, leaving only Edward Teller working on the development of the thermonuclear superbomb. The atomic bomb was completed, effectively ending the war with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This five-lecture course will begin with a discussion of Soviet espionage in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1940s. It will then examine the development of the superbomb as a weapon of mass destruction, featuring scientists such as J. Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. The course will include explanations of the physics that informed the research into the atomic and the superbomb.



1.   Soviet espionage

2. The start of the Cold War and the Soviet bomb

3. The development of the Super, the ‘Hydrogen Bomb’, the ultimate weapon

4. The Super

5. 'In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer’, Teller and the trial


Recommended Reading

Rhodes, R. 1995. Dark Sun. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Rhodes, R. 2007. Arsenals of Folly. Penguin Random House.


Date: 15–19 January  Venue: LT2, Kramer Law Building
Time: 11.15 am
COURSE  FEES  Full: R510,00  Staff: R255,00  Reduced: R130,00