Given a selection of things to lose on a prepare, a high-secret document detailing the newly developed hydrogen bomb must be on the underside of the checklist. In January 1953, between the Red Scare and the Korean War, that was precisely what physicist John Archibald Wheeler misplaced.
In the December 2019 concern of Physics Today, science historian Alex Wellerstein particulars the creation of the document and Wheeler’s day main as much as its mysterious loss. Wellerstein (Stevens Institute of Technology) collects FBI information of physicists, obtained by way of the Freedom of Information Act, as a part of his analysis into the history of nuclear secrecy.
Wheeler is probably finest identified for coining the time period “black hole,” and his contributions to physics span completely different fields of research to incorporate the hydrogen bomb undertaking. When the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy determined to compile a history of the hydrogen bomb as a part of a smear marketing campaign towards controversial physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, they despatched a six-web page extract to Wheeler to make sure the accuracy of the report’s technical facets. The pages contained details about the discoveries of Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam that led to the creation of thermonuclear weapons.
Wheeler learns the document in a single day on a sleeper practice. After studying it, he recalled putting it right into a white envelope, placing the white envelope right into a manila envelope, then the manila envelope into his suitcase, and putting his case in between the wall and himself of the process.
When Wheeler used the restroom the next morning, he took the manila envelope out of his suitcase and into the stall with him; however, mistakenly left it there. He returned and retrieved it, however when he opened it later, the white envelope inside was lacking, with the key hydrogen bomb historical past inside it.
The FBI dismantled the practice automobile, searched everything of the rail line, tried to trace down an inventory of passengers, and carried out investigations on Wheeler and others concerned; however, their efforts had been fruitless. The doc was gone.
Wellerstein mentioned the “lurid particulars” are what made him wish to dig additional into this story.
Although its loss derailed a number of careers and was a part of the sequence of occasions that led to Oppenheimer’s well-known safety listening to, the thriller of no matter occurred to these six pages within the white envelope stays.
As for Wheeler, regardless of the dire punishments for mishandling nuclear secrets and techniques, he acquired off with solely a letter of rebuke from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.