In the summer of 1939, Albert Einstein was on holiday in a small tourist town on the tip of Long Island. His quiet summer, however, was about to be destroyed by a visit from an old friend and colleague from his years in Berlin. The visitor was the physicist Leo Szilard. Einstein had been said they feared the Nazis could soon be in possession of a terrible new weapon and that something must be done. Szilard believed that recent scientific breakthroughs meant it was possible to convert mass into energy. And this could be used to make a bomb. If this happens, it would be a terrible realization of the law of nature Einstein had discovered some 34 years earlier. September 1905 was Einstein’s “miracle year”. While working as a patent clerk in the Swiss capital of Bern Einstein submitted a three-page supplement to the theory of relativity, published earlier this year. In these pages is derived from the most famous equation of all time, e = mc ², energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.
The equation showed that mass and energy are related and which could, in theory, becomes the other. But because the speed of light squared is a number so large that means that even a small amount of mass could be a huge amount of energy. Since the discovery of radioactivity in the 19th century, scientists had realized that the atomic nucleus can contain a large amount of energy. Einstein’s revolutionary equation were shown for the first time, how much there was.”