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Lecture 11

NATS 1770 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: James Bryant Conant, Karl Taylor Compton, Uranium-235

Natural Science
Course Code
NATS 1770

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Copyright 2009 © Vera Pavri
Lecture 11: Science, Technology and WWII
I. The Rise of “Big Science Projects”
Interwar period sets foundations for new era of “big science” projects that will
become a staple of WWII and post war period. What is Big Science?
According to Historians Ciesla & Trischler:
a. one project that is often based around a single apparatus; fusion of
different scientific-technical disciplines
b. extensive and intensive use of both financial and human resources
c. projects financed by the state (greater involvement)
d. projects are both short, middle and long-term but are expected to produce
concrete results
e. industries conduct both basic and applied research
f. political and social goals are stated as justification for development of
certain projects
g. political goals are combined with fact that scientists have greater
autonomy in setting work goals
II. US Research and Development Prior to their Entry into WWII
- Vannevar Bush – Chair of National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics
- realizes Nazi threat; does not think US is adequately equipped to handle
Germany’s advanced air force
- formation of National Defense Research Council in 1940; made a branch
of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) in 1941
- Bush becomes chair of this office
- members of NDRC include: Frank Jewett (President, NAS); James Conant
(chemist and President of Harvard); Karl Compton (President, MIT)
- joined by members of army, navy and air force
- group did not feel comfortable relying on individual efforts in producing
technologies for war; form separate inventor’s council
- instead, group wants to give contracts to corporations, institutions and
individuals with proven track records in productive research
- total spent on R&D by OSRD: 337M; non-corporate institutions that
benefited included MIT, Cal Tech, Harvard, Columbia, UC, John Hopkins

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Copyright 2009 © Vera Pavri
- corps: Western Electric (manufacturing arm of AT&T), Research
Construction Corporation, GE, RCA, Westinghouse, Remington Rand,
Eastman Kodak
- emphasis placed on electronic goods as opposed to more traditional
materials used in war that companies like GM produced
- technologies of the future: radar, proximity fuses, computers
- development of Atomic bomb (see below) leads to development of space
program (hydrogen bomb, Star Wars, Strategic Defense Initiative)
- combining industrial, educational resources under military umbrella
becomes foundation for future of US technology
- military-industrial complex (term coined during Cold War): science has
increasingly bigger role in society; interdependence of science and
technology; increasing demands for more money, individuals and
instruments for research, state use of research
- example: Research and Development (RAND) corporation set up to keep
Air Force “in game” of new technological development because they do
not have their own research facilities
III. Airplanes
a. Civil Aviation
- technology improves during interwar period
- i.e. water cooled engines replaced by air-cooled engines
- leads to decrease in costs because engine is lighter and can go faster
- material changes: wood to metal
- wing flaps allow heavier and more powerful planes to land safely
- Boeing, Douglas rely on military support (US Navy) during interwar period
to support their research and development
- technology designed for military could then be used for civilian purposes
- commercial aviation required following: development of airports, chartered
airways, safety laws, weather service, beacons for night flights
- commercial aviation in place by 1920s but only takes off in 1930s;
predominant use of planes until this time was for mail
- many companies like American, TWA, Delta, Northwest and United were
initially a branch of an airplane manufacturing entity; separate because of
anti-trust laws in US in 1930s
- passenger driven aviation aided by development of Douglas DC-3 in 1936
- cost ¼ what it did to carry passengers in 1929
- flies farther, faster, carries more passengers, is safer
b. Jet Engine Technology
- research starts on jet engine in 1930s
- long range bombers developed for war eventually used for civilian flights;
cuts in ½ costs per passenger mile
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