The discoveries of 1939, that a heavy nucleus can undergo fission and that the subsequent release of neutrons could induce a chain reaction, were events that have changed the course of human history.   Suddenly mankind had the means to release an enormous amount of energy with which to wage horrific warfare or create a better quality of life for the ever-growing world population.   It is no surprise that fifty years later a number of conferences should be held around the world to recognize the anniversary and to review the consequences.

Canada was not directly associated with the initial discovery of fission - this having been centered in Europe through the activities of Use Meitner, Otto Frisch, Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassman, Irene Curie and Pavel Savic.   Neither was Canada directly involved with the later demonstration of the first man-induced chain reaction - this honour going to Enrico Fermi and his Chicago group.   But neither was Canada a neophyte in the field of nuclear physics.   The early research of Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, was done in McGill University at the beginning of the century and he was to play an influential role in the life of Otto Hahn - as Les Cook recounts in his talk. George Laurence, who went on to become one of Canada's most eminent scientists, was building a nuclear "pile" at the same time as Fermi.   Partly through these influences, and because of its fortunate geographic location and the turmoil in Europe during the Second World War, Canada was able to join in with the research associated with fission at a very early stage and could quickly benefit from the stimulus that this gave to a wide range of scientific and industrial fields.   It is most appropriate, therefore, that a Special Symposium recalling these events should form part of the Annual Conference of the Canadian Nuclear Association and the Canadian Nuclear Society in Ottawa, June 5,1989.

The Special Symposium was designed to highlight how the technical information reached our shores and the effect that this discovery had in Canada in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine and nuclear power.   Six speakers were chosen who were pioneers of the period and who were each eminently qualified to review the separate fields.

As principal organizer of the Symposium, it is with deep gratitude that I acknowledge the cooperation from the distinguished speakers - Bertrand Goldschmidt, Les Cook, Geoff Hanna, John Poster, Alvin Weinberg and Sylvia Fedoruk - in firstly addressing the meeting and then in providing me with their manuscripts.   The reader will find in this collection of talks a snapshot of the birth of nuclear technology in Canada, its subsequent growth and influence on the sciences.   I can only hope that this small volume will stimulate a work of much greater dimension to record in detail the achievements of the past fifty years.

I would like to thank Robert Bothwell who, through his introduction, brought to the event the perspective of a non-technical person who is nevertheless an authority on the history of the nuclear industry in Canada,

I am very grateful to Ara Mooradian who had the unenviable task/ as chairman, of limiting the speakers to their allotted time which was regretfully all too short for the wealth of information. Ara's sage advice on the structure for the Symposium was much appreciated.

This Symposium would not have occurred without the help, advice and encouragement from my subcommittee of Gerald Dolling, Paul Fehrenbach and Alec Stewart, and from Ron Veilleux and Dave Cowper of the CNA/CNS organising committee.

Finally, I would like to thank those who have helped put this volume together: Monique Lapointe for the collation; Charles Gale and Martin Elliott for their technical advice and help in transferring files from an IBM computer onto a Macintosh through which the final manuscript was prepared; Geoff Hanna, Varley Sears and Gerald Dolling for their help in proof reading; and last, but by no means least, Margaret Carey who retyped all manuscripts and patiently suffered the whims of the editor.

In preparing this volume I have kept the editing to a minimum in order to preserve the style of the various speakers.   I apologize for any errors that might have crept in and hope that any blemishes do not detract from the enjoyment and value of the text.

Malcolm Harvey
Chalk River, Ontario
August, 1989

Mainpage and Table of Contents

Next: Biographies

[Canadian Nuclear Society home page]