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The Fly in the Cathedral

By Brian Cathcart

"Cathcart tells this exhilarating story with both verve and precision" --The Sunday Telegraph

Re-creating the frustrations, excitements, and obsessions of 1932, the "miracle year" of British physics, Brian Cathcart reveals in rich detail the astonishing story behind the splitting of the atom. The most celebrated scientific experiment of its time, it would lead to one of mankind's most devastating inventions--the atomic bomb.

All matter is made mostly of empty space. Each of the billions of atoms that comprise it is hollow, its true mass concentrated in a tiny nucleus that, if the atom were a cathedral, would be no bigger than a fly. Discovering its existence three quarters of a century ago was Lord Rutherford's greatest scientific achievement, but even he caught only a glimpse. Almost at the point of despair, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, two young researchers in a grubby basement room at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, grappled with the challenge. Racing against their American and German counterparts-a colorful cast of Nobel Prize winners--they would change everything. With paper-and-pencil calculations, a handmade apparatus, the odd lump of plasticine, and some revolutionary physics, Cockroft and Walton raised the curtain on the atomic age.

The Fly in the Cathedral is a riveting and erudite narrative inspired by the dreams that lead the last true gentlemen scientists to the very essence of the universe: the heart of matter.




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  • 539.762 Cat, Nonfiction

Publish Date




Format: Book
Author: Cathcart, Brian
Title: The fly in the cathedral / Brian Cathcart.
Publisher Date: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, c2004.
Subject: Rutherford, Ernest, 1871-1937 Walton, Ernest, 1903-1995 Scientists -- England -- Cambridge -- Biography. Science -- England -- Cambridge -- History. Nuclear fission Radioactivity
Isbn: 0374157162 (hardcover : alk. paper)
Current Holds: 0
System Items Available: 1
System Items Total: 1
Call Number: 539.762 Cat
Oclc: 56096501
Bib Id: 222207

Format: Book
Author: Cathcart, Brian
Title: The fly in the cathedral / Brian Cathcart.
Edition: 1st American ed.
Publisher, Date: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, c2004.
Description: xii, 308 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Subjects: Rutherford, Ernest, 1871-1937
Subjects: Walton, Ernest, 1903-1995
Subjects: Scientists -- England -- Cambridge -- Biography.
Subjects: Science -- England -- Cambridge -- History.
Subjects: Nuclear fission
Subjects: Radioactivity
Notes: Includes bibliographical references (p. [293]-298) and index.
LCCN: 2004056348
ISBN: 0374157162 (hardcover : alk. paper)
Requests: 0
Available Copies: 1
Total Copies: 1
Call Number: 539.762 Cat