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Title: Uranium isotope separation in the UK during World War II
Author: Attwood, Thomas Vincent.
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2004
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This thesis investigates the practical, rather than theoretical, aspects of the uranium isotope separation technology developed in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. The overall scientific control of the bomb project was initially under G.P. Thomson but later devolved to Chadwick. Simon, at the University of Oxford, oversaw the practical aspects of isotope separation while Peierls, at Birmingham, was largely responsible for the theory, although many other leading scientists were involved in both the choice of a separation method and the associated measurement techniques required for its application. Frisch, the joint proposer of fission, was working on uranium isotope separation prior to the end of 1939. Frisch and Peierls produced a memorandum, in March 1940, which set the u.K. project in motion and eventually triggered the Americans into action. The Frisch-Peierls Memorandum led to the formation of the M.A.U.D. Committee which produced its report in July of 1941 that confirmed the scientific feasibility of such a weapon. A new and larger organisation, Tube Alloys, was then formed to complete the project. Virtually all methods of isotope separation were investigated before the choice of gas diffusion through a porous membrane was made. Most of the other methods became viable in the post war period or were applied to elements other than uranium. Two main problems had to be solved in the gas diffusion system: the design of a gas compressor system capable of operating at low absolute pressure, and the manufacture of a suitable diffusion membrane. A whole variety of membranes were investigated and a number taken to pilot production stage by small commercial firms. Experimental machines were designed and a pilot production plant constructed. The separation properties of both membranes and the diffusion machine were demonstrated. The transfer of core members of the team to America prevented completion of this work during the wartime period. The Americans, with their strong economy, wider range of scientific facilities, and enormous manufacturing capability, gradually assumed a leading role in the atomic work. The realisation that both the construction of both the separation plant and the manufacture of a bomb was beyond the financial and production capability of the U.K. led to the transfer of the leading members of the British team to America to pursue the project.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available