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Joseph Rotblat – a man of conscience in the nuclear age

rotblatnew .jpg
(Courtesy: Willem Malten/Los Alamos Study Group).

By Hamish Johnston

This mural commemorating the life of Sir Joseph Rotblat is on the wall of the Cloud Cliff Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Rotblat — who was born 100 years ago this week — is the subject of a new book by Martin Underwood entitled Joseph Rotblat – A Man of Conscience in the Nuclear Age, which will be published early next year by Sussex Academic Press.

If you are intrigued by the brief description of Rotblat’s life on the mural, Underwood has written a preview of his book.

Rotblat was born to a Jewish family in Poland on 4 November, 1908. He studied physics and became assistant director of the Atomic Physics Institute of the Free University of Poland in 1937. He was fortunate to be in the UK when war broke out in 1939, but was unable to get his wife Tola out. She is believed to have died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

While working with James Chadwick at Liverpool University, Underwood writes that Rotblat was “wrestling with his conscience” because he realized that he could make a contribution to the development of the atomic bomb.

Rotblat decided to join the Manhattan Project in 1944 because he believed that the only way to stop Hitler from using the bomb, was for the Allies to develop their own weapon. However, after less than a year, he left Los Alamos…and I’ll let Underwood describe the rest of this fascinating life.

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