Explaining the Fission Chain Reaction

Today’s lecture examined that fascinating decade-and-a-bit in the middle of the twentieth century wherein humans acquired the capacity both to destroy life with unprecedented power and also to create it. In my discussion of nuclear fission, I briefly touched on Leo Szilard’s walk around London in 1933 during which he conceived of a neutron chain reaction. His idea was pretty straightforward: if a single neutron could strike an atomic nucleus and release one or more neutrons, these subsequently released neutrons could initiate a chain of similar reactions, which could create an enormous amount of energy. I described this with the following image on the screen behind me:

Clear enough, although this is still a daunting abstraction to students not familiar with science. Maybe this will help. Thanks to @Canageek for jogging my memory about this video and encouraging me to post the following:

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