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Atomic Energy and Radio
October 1945 Radio-Craft Article

October 1945 Radio-Craft

October 1945 Radio Craft Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Craft, published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

As were many people at the dawn of the Nuclear Age, Radio-Craft magazine editor Hugo Gernsback predicted with the ebullience you would expect of a technology visionary the vast role nuclear power would play in the future of mankind. Due to the two or three month lead time in magazine publishing in 1945, Mr. Gernsback would have written this article entitled, "Atomic Energy and Radio" just about the time news was breaking of the "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" thermonuclear bomb detonations. The Manhattan Project was super-ultra-top-secret so very few people were even aware that such an effort was in the works, so headlines with photos of the trademark mushroom cloud over Japan were utterly shocking. The immense power released by relatively small masses of uranium and plutonium boggled the minds of even those who understood the physics and developed the bombs. Gernsback and others predicted fantastic peacetime uses for nuclear power ranging from perpetually running wrist watches to ships, cars, trains and even airplanes. Homes and businesses would be powered by compact on-site electrical generators. Medical teams would cure every disease. The possibilities were endless... unless the effects of nuclear radiation on living tissue had to be considered, that is.

Atomic Energy and Radio - "Wrist-Talkies" and other wonders are on the way ...

Atomic Energy and Radio, October 1945 Radio-Craft - RF Cafe... Atomic power which has already revolutionized warfare will change everything on earth-including radio ... powerful broadcast stations in brief-cases, "Wrist-Talkies" and other wonders are on the way ...

Hugo Gernsback

The coming of the new atomic bomb must be considered as the starting point of an entirely new era in man's history. The changes in our civilization which atomic power will bring about are so incredible and breath-taking that they will bewilder and astonish people for years to come.

The vast and manifold implications of atomic power will shake our lives and our mode of living as nothing up to now has ever been able to do. Not even the invention of gunpowder, the steam engine and electricity, can be compared to the reign of the corming atomic age.

All our previous concepts of the word "power" must go into the discard. The reason for this is that atomic power is so vastly greater than any other form of energy known heretofore that the mind is not able to grasp the astronomical figures necessary to describe it. It is as if we tried to compare the strength of a gnat with the inherent energy of Niagara Falls.

Scientists for many years have pointed out that if we could realize the latent energy in a single one-cent copper piece, we could drive the mightiest battleship across the seven seas and have energy left to spare. This should give an inkling of the vast potentialities of atomic power.

Thirty-five years ago, I predicted that some day we would have "one horsepower in a watch," meaning thereby that in the confines of a packet watch could be stored the power normally exerted by one horse. With atomic power this will be exceeded many thousand-fold. It is certain that not only a single horsepower, but many thousand horsepower can be locked in a space as, small as a wrist-watch. Automobiles and other vehicles will no longer require the big engines and fuel tanks which we use today. The whole motor will be minuscule, just as the atomic bomb itself measures only a small fraction of the size of the usual blockbuster bombs.

Atomic energy built our universe. Our own sun as well as the myriads of other suns could not function without atomic energy.

When man first started out, he had practically no energy except his own muscles. Later on, when he knew how to use fire, he was given a new form of energy which lightened his work. Much later, fire was used to make steam, which again helped him in his emancipation from drudgery. Then came electricity, and the energy of steam could be converted into electrical current. About the same time the power of waterfalls could be transformed into electricity, and by overhead wires the electric current could perform important work at a distance. Thus, the power of Niagara Falls runs trolley cars at Schenectady and other distant cities. Then came the internal combustion engine, making the automobile possible, and man again advanced by leaps and bounds. But all this was child's play. These forms of energy are as crude as using mere manpower in building a Boulder Dam.

The unlocking of the atom will change everything on earth. Future man will have far the first time an abundance of cheap power which can be used instantly wherever it is wanted. Instead of burning coal and using falling water to run our electric motors, a few pounds of specially prepared material will give us electricity, light and heat and air-conditioning in our homes - on the spot, whenever it is needed or wanted. It will no longer be necessary to. subscribe to electric light and power service. All this - within a few generations - will be a thing of the past. You will generate your own power On the spot, just as you generate power in your automobile today. The resulting heat and power will cost the merest fraction of present day costs. There will be no smoke, no quantity of ashes to cart away the next morning, because your atomic generator will use up its materials and practically no waste will remain - no more than from your electrical motor today. You will get your heat and power exactly at the time when and where you need it. Your atomic generator will be a small compact affair that can be placed anywhere in the house - even in the living room if necessary. It will work silently and there will be no smoke and no smell.

Just what substance you will feed into your "atomic furnace" cannot be revealed now, because it has as yet not been perfected. The chances are, however, that it will be a metallic composition. There will be a primer - the spark-plug of the atomic generator. Just as you need a spark-plug to start your gasoline engine today, just as you need a detonator to explode T.N.T. today, so we will need a primer to start off the future atomic engine. The reason why we did not have atomic energy before was simply because we had no suitable "detonator" to start off atomic "chain action." As an example, give a savage a block of T.N.T. He can hammer it and throw it about; he can even put a flame to it, but nothing happens. Now equip it with a fulminate of mercury detonator, and the T.N.T. will go off with a roar, moving the side of a mountain. But the savage did not know how to use the primer-detonator. Indeed, he did not know what it was. So we, for thousands of years, did not have the necessary primer to unlock the vast inherent energy of every substance that abounds in nature - whether it is a stone, a metal coin, a piece of wood - in fact, any material you can imagine - all these substances have locked in themselves vast amounts of atomic energy. Now for the first time man will be able to use that energy and rise to new heights. To be sure our scientists have only made a start - not with common materials, but so far only with the precious Uranium. But the cheaper materials will follow in due time.

In any discussion of atomic power, it must be realized that it would take volumes to describe all of its potentialities. For instance, we already know that radium by its atomic energy, gives off a vast amount of power. We also know that radium over a stretch of 2500 years turns finally into lead. But in doing so during the 2500 years of its life, radium generates (among other things) electricity spontaneously and directly. In effect, radium is an electrical generator itself - without mechanisms or wires.

It seems very probable, therefore, that future atomic generators can be made to furnish electrical power, even without a motor as we know it today. From this it appears that such tiny, but powerful generators will not contain moving parts in order to generate electricity. This in turn will revolutionize many industries. It will thus be possible to have portable electric generators which will give a vast amount of electrical power, yet be minute in size. You will be able to carry on your person a "flashlight" which will give millions of candle power - should anyone need such a vast amount of illumination.

Those who have read about the dreadful rays (causing fatal burns, etc.) which radium and other similar compounds give out, while disintegrating, probably wonder how anyone would be able to carry such a dangerous article on his person. The answer again is in the "detonator." Nothing happens till you release the energy. A revolver too carries high power and stored destruction. Then too, you need so little of the atomic stuff that a quantity the size of a pinhead will give actually thousands upon thousands of horsepower. As to the destructive emanations (while the action occurs), lead or similar "insulation" will stop the deadly rays so they can't harm you.

As for comforts, atomic power will give man his promised millennium. No longer will you freeze in temperatures below zero, or broil in a 100-degree heat. You will carry with you on your person a small atomic generator which will either give you sufficient heat through woven-in wires in the clothing to keep you warm in Arctic temperature - or in a tropical summer, you will be able to keep comfortably cool by similar wires, except that in this case they will be made of bismuth and antimony alloys, respectively. These wires cross each other at certain points and at the juncture a freezing temperature is generated-the so-called Peltier effect. The wires are simply connected to your atomic electric generator and you will be comfortable even if the temperature goes to 120 degrees.

To give another example of many thousands, your radio set will no longer be dependent upon external supply current or even batteries. Indeed, your radio tube will be its own atomic generator.

In this connection, radio men will be interested to note that the present atom generator appears to be akin to our radio tubes. Referring to the isotope of uranium from which the material for our atomic bombs is obtained, General David Sarnoff, President of Radio Corporation of America, points out: "It is this metal that has for the first time, under special electrical bombardment in a vacuum tube (italics ours) released some of the energy of its atoms." So atomic power is another branch of vacuum-tube technique!

I described in the April, 1944, issue of Radio-Craft magazine, merely as an April-Fool joke, the Radium-Radio Tube. This described in detail how a tube powered by a mere speck of radium furnishes the entire radio set with all its energy, having sufficient left over so that the power actually would have to be throttled down! This was a far-fetched idea at that time and therefore was treated humorously. It now becomes a distinct possibility.

The Handie-Talkie of the present and immediate postwar future will become the "wrist-talkie." Far more powerful - yet diminutive in size, the wrist-talkie - atomic powered - will enable you to talk to your nearby home, or friends thousands of miles away (via the telephone companies).

The coming of atomic energy will profoundly change our present conception of radio receivers. The multiple-tube sets from four to a dozen tubes and over, will no longer prevail. One or two tubes at most (multiplier types) will suffice even for the most powerful sets. All will be "portables," that is, non-dependent upon any outside wire connection to a source of power.

To be sure all this will not come about this year or next - but we are on the way to it, in the not very distant future.



Posted July 30, 2021

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