Science: The Philosophers' Stone

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It remained, for instance, impossible for ''uncleared'' persons of any nationality to design an efficient nuclear reactor.

Change of Climate. The secrecy and restrictions began to fade, however, on the day in December 1953 when President Eisenhower stood before the General Assembly of the United Nations and said: "The United States would seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes. It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip it of its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace. The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military buildup can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon for the benefit of all mankind." Eisenhower proposed an international body to share atomic materials and knowledge. The project inched ahead only slowly; from Moscow came no encouragement.

Then in December 1954, the U.N.'s Gen eral Assembly voted unanimously to hold a technical conference under U.N. auspices "to explore means of developing the peace ful uses of atomic energy through inter national cooperation," and this time the Russians agreed to cooperate. Geneva was the result.

Though no specific promises were made, the world's scientists and atom-minded industrialists sensed from the beginning that the conference would be a general freeing of information. "It will be a declassification fair," said a highly placed U.S. official. To 84 nations went invitations to send papers and exhibits dealing with atoms for peace. An American, Professor Walter Whitman of M.I.T., and a Russian, Viktor Vavilov, headed the spadework job of screening the material. They got along fine together; there were plenty of arguments, says Whitman, but they were based on scientific, not nationalistic, differences.

As the papers streamed in, they got scientifically more exciting. Far from concealing information, the nations were competing with one another to tell what they have accomplished in peaceful atomics. When Dr. Whitman began his work, he confesses now, he feared that the conference would be a dull formality, but soon he became sure that it would be a success. In country after country, the delegations were made up of top men. The U.S. team includes such important scientists as Walter Zinn, Hans Bethe. Official historian for the U.S. is Laura Fermi, wife of the late Enrico Fermi, who put in operation the world's first nuclear chain reaction.

Peaceful Atom-Man. The top scientist and chief planner for the U.S. group, diligent, quiet Willard Libby, is just the sort of man to command the respect of such distinguished scientific company. He is a famed scientist, not merely a scientific administrator or politician.

The son of a Colorado farmer who moved his family to a California fruit ranch in 1913, Libby went to the Sebastopol (Calif.) high school, where he played tackle on the football team before going on to the University of California. To pay his way, he worked summers on a fruit ranch, nailing boxes together at i¢ a box. Libby, a strapping 6 ft. 2| ¼ in., nailed enough of them to earn as much as $100 a week. "It was good money," he says, "if you could stand the pressure."

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