Fission, fusion, and a sense of
When I moved to New Mexico in 2001, I satisfied a desire born fifteen
years earlier. The pull started with my graduate work in physics,
working toward the holy grail of controlled nuclear fusion. New
Mexico had always been front and center in that effort.
The quest began in 1938, when scientists found that splitting
(fission) of large atoms like uranium liberated enormous energy.
The discovery occurred on the eve of World War II, and German scientists
immediately saw that fission could provide a devastating weapon.
In 1943 the U.S. government commandeered the site of the Los Alamos
Ranch School, on the Pajarito Plateau, and created a lab to build
an atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer had spent summers there, and
he chose it as the development site due to its remoteness, but also
due to the magic of the land, which he knew would help attract other
scientists. In just two years Los Alamos produced the bombs that
destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war.
It was soon realized that a far more powerful weapon might be
possible from the fusion of small atoms, such as hydrogen, into
bigger ones. Fusion happens only in the heat of stars, but it was
thought that a fission bomb might serve to ignite a fusion explosion.
In 1949, the U.S.S.R. exploded a fission weapon, and a crash program
began in the U.S. to build a hydrogen bomb. In 1952 a fusion device
called "Mike" (not really a bomb, but a machine three
stories tall) exploded in the South Pacific with the force of a
thousand Hiroshimas. The island that it was on vanished, and the
nuclear arms race was in full swing. In the following years scientists
at Los Alamos and a new sister laboratory in Livermore, California,
worked to make nuclear weapons ever more powerful, and small enough
to be carried by an airplane, then a missile, then an artillery
Nuclear fission was quickly harnessed to generate electricity,
and once H-bombs were realized, the effort began to control fusion
energy. The payoff would be huge—the fuel would be hydrogen,
obtainable from seawater, and fusion would produce almost no radioactive
waste. Elaborate experiments have produced small amounts of fusion
energy, but the power generated has always been less than that used
to drive the experiment. The quest for ignition (getting more power
out than you put in) has been long and difficult.
While an H-bomb relies on the force of a fission explosion to
compress the fuel, an approach called laser fusion uses enormous
lasers to do this. The National Ignition Facility being built at
Livermore will be the size of a football stadium, focusing 192 intense
laser beams onto a BB-sized target of fuel. For a few billionths
of a second the lasers will generate a thousand times more power
than the rest of the U.S. combined. The hope is that NIF will produce
the first controlled thermonuclear ignition; meanwhile, it will
be used to model the behavior of nuclear weapons, the interiors
of the sun and stars, and other extremes of temperature and pressure.
Sandia National Lab, in Albuquerque, (begun in 1945 as a branch
of Los Alamos) has pioneered a competing method using particle beams
instead of lasers, and achieved a record for fusion energy production
in 2003, using yet another device called a Z-pinch, which might
yet beat NIF to ignition.
Today Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos National Laboratories
each employ over seven thousand people, and the primary mission
of all three is the maintenance of the nation's nuclear weapons.
The stockpile has been sitting in missile silos for more years than
planned, so experiments and computer simulations are being used
to understand how well these aging weapons will work. New weapon
designs are also studied, and some idealists who hoped to solve
the world's energy problems have found themselves designing weapons
instead. The brains and supercomputers at all three labs are also
being applied to fields like biotech, manufacturing, climate modeling,
and space science.
I began studying physics to change matter to energy, like alchemists
creating gold from lead. My education was laced with tastes of New
Mexico; visions of science were mixed with the mystical landscape,
pure clear light, colors not seen elsewhere, spirituality. It was
all here when I arrived—healers and air-force pilots, bomb
designers and peace activists. The mixture is not really accidental.
Oppenheimer's parents sent him to a paradise. When he started upon
the creative project of his lifetime, he did it here. Perhaps the
great power that allowed both the creativity and the destruction
could only have been found in a place like this.
El Rinconcito español
Cuando el dinero habla, la verdad calla. = When money
speaks, the truth is silent.
La memoria es como el mal amigo; cuando más falta te
hace, te falla. = Memory is like a bad friend; when you need
it most, it fails you.
No se puede pedir peras al olmo. = You can’t ask
an elm tree for pears.
Submitted by SOS-panyol, Placitas—Spanish
instruction that focuses on oral communication skills, www.sospanyol.com.
Stablein to perform Day of the Dead celebration
Writer, artist, and performer Marilyn Stablein will present her
annual post-Halloween Day of the Dead celebration and performance
of “Bardo Passages: Soul Journey to Tibet,” on Tuesday,
November 1, at 7:00 p.m., at the Corrales Trading Post, 4409 Corrales
Road, Corrales (just north of Wells Fargo Bank, on the west side.
Look for the luminarias). Refreshments will be served.
The performance is a ritual celebration of All Hallow’s
Eve, which inspires our present-day Halloween celebrations. Many
cultures, including Celtic and Mexican, recognize the Day of the
A special Day of the Dead altar will be on view at the Corrales
Trading Post through the month of October.
“Bardo Passages: Soul Journey to Tibet” is a ceremonial
journey through the afterlife realms. According to Tibetan beliefs
described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, after the soul escapes
from the body at the moment of death, it travels for forty-nine
days in a limbo between death and rebirth. During the journey, the
soul encounters the Lord of Death, scary Bardo creatures, and visits
the Hellish realms before exiting the Bardo and experiencing rebirth.
Doors will open at 6:00 p.m. Attendees are invited to bring memento
mori or tokens and memorabilia of loved ones who have passed beyond
to place on a special memorial shrine for the duration of the evening’s
performance. Donations will be accepted.
Stablein is the author of seven books, most recently Sleeping
in Caves: A Sixties Himalayan Memoir (Monkfish Book Publishing Company),
based on the seven years she lived in India and Nepal. Excerpts
from her book will be incorporated into the performance, and copies
of the book will be available.
For more information, contact Marilyn Stablein, at 897-1456 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historian speaks on El Camino Real
A PowerPoint presentation by Harry C. Myers, showing the route of
the historic El Camino Real through Albuquerque and the surrounding
area, will be held on Sunday, November 13, at Coronado State Monument,
at 2:00 p.m.
Myers is the team leader for the Long Walk National Historic Trail
Feasibility Study, involving the Navajo Nation and the Mescalero
Apache Tribe. He previously was superintendent of Fort Union National
Monument and is the author of numerous articles on the Santa Fe
Trail. His talk will cover the various routes of exploration through
this area and show why trails, roads, and highways follow much the
same alignments as Coronado's expedition.
Reservations are required, as space is limited. Please call Katherine,
at 867-6115. Admission is $5 per person, free to members of the
Friends of Coronado State Monument.
Coronado State Monument is off I-25, Exit 242, west of the town
Ranger Station to hold drum-making demo, discussion
of Pueblo Revolt
Gabe Trujillo, of Cochiti Pueblo, who has been making drums for
thirty-three years, will demonstrate his art on October 29, from
2:00 to 4:00 p.m., at the Tijeras Ranger Station.
On November 5, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., Dr. Stefanie Beninato,
a public historian, will discuss the rebellions against Spanish
authority, especially the story of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, one
of the most successful rebellions against Spanish authority anywhere
in the world. Beninato will explore the many questions surrounding
this revolt. Was there native leadership in the revolt? Was there
only one leader of the Pueblo Revolt? Could only a mulatto have
led this successful rebellion, as postulated decades ago?
Both programs will be held at the Sandia Ranger Station in Tijeras.
For additional information, you may call 281-3304.
Las Cruces again named a top retirement spot
Money magazine has named Las Cruces again as one of the best places
to retire. In the November issue, Las Cruces is among five U.S.
cities named as Best College Towns to Retire. The article cites
several factors for the ranking, including great weather, amazing
views, New Mexico State University, local health-care facilities,
cultural scene, and hospitality.
The article cites inexpensive housing as another reason why Las
Cruces was considered, saying “prices have stayed modest;
new houses start around $200,000, while existing stock usually costs
less.” The warm Las Cruces climate, with three hundred days
of sunshine a year, was also an important factor.
Las Cruces was ranked by Money as one of the Best Places to Retire
in 2002, when it was also ranked by the Forbes/Milken Institute
as the Best Small Metro Area for Business and Careers.
“Jan, come see what you make of this.” Arthur, in his
typical understated way, was telling me that he had found some large
dinosaur bones. This was the beginning of a long and convoluted
series of events that resulted in this dinosaur becoming the superstar
of a 2002 Tokyo exhibit of the bones of the world’s largest
dinosaurs. The following is how it all started.
In 1976 Congress directed the Bureau of Land Management to select
from its four thousand or more acres of roadless lands, those which
might be suitable for addition to the National Wilderness Preservation
System. Relatively soon thereafter, the BLM in New Mexico released
a list and map of possible wilderness study areas in the state.
Frank Walker, Arthur Loy, and I explored several of these, including
one near San Ysidro named Ojito (Frank had hiked in the area since
1949, and introduced it to me in 1965). Early in the selection process,
the Ojito was ruled out for wilderness consideration, not only by
the BLM but by the local wilderness advocates (because as dramatic
and picturesque as it is, it contains no rivers or lakes).
In 1979, while exploring the Ojito alone, I came upon some distinct
petroglyphs atop a small mesa. I thought their presence might help
with our plan to revive the Ojito’s candidacy for wilderness
Soon after, Arthur, an excellent photographer, accompanied me
on a hike to the petroglyphs so that he could record them. It was
while paralleling me (our usual way of exploring) about fifty feet
below the mesa edge that he called out. While walking toward him,
I instantly recognized from thirty feet the obvious vertebrae of
a large dinosaur. The articulated vertebral column looked like a
huge chicken neck lying half in and half out of sandstone. Right
off it seemed likely that the vertebrae were from a saurapod about
the size of Diplodocus. It was my impression that there were lot
of these giants in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, so I didn’t
think it unique, although I knew from all my years of hiking in
New Mexico that this was a rare find (Arthur told me that he had
never found even a piece of dinosaur bone before).
Now what to do about the discovery? I remember kidding Arthur,
“I’m sure glad it’s your responsibility, since
you found it.” Little did we know how all this would play
out, and what a monster Arthur had created. Within a week we took
Frank to the site. The three of us determined to reveal the discovery
only to friends until we decided upon the appropriate paleontologist
to study it (we each had had previous discouraging experiences with
revealing scientific discoveries to museums and universities). We
were not in any hurry, as we wanted to be assured that “the
dinosaur” (as we so imaginatively called it) would be excavated
under the best scientific principles.
But in 1980, when we presented our case for the Ojito to the BLM,
we felt that we should include slides of the dinosaur to strengthen
the cause for wilderness protection. At that meeting, Keith Rigby,
the resident BLM paleontologist, was called into the room to view
the pictures of the fossilized bones. He instantly recognized their
importance. Because of that meeting, the Ojito was back on the map
for wilderness study. But in the process of promoting the Ojito
we had prematurely revealed the existence of the dinosaur.
Of course Rigby wanted to see the bones in situ as soon as possible.
Shortly after we showed him the site he left for a teaching position
at Notre Dame and the dinosaur was apparently forgotten except by
the three of us and our friends. Over the next few years scores
of our friends were taken to the site individually or in groups,
in an informal way. Remarkably, no bones were moved from their original
position at any time. Bill Norlander, a friend and television-news
expert, did a thorough job of videotaping the bones and environs.
By spring 1985 illegal activities in the Ojito WSA were encroaching
upon the site. Woodcutters’ roads and dirt-bike trails were
getting closer and closer. We became ever more nervous. Frank, who
had made the acquaintance of Jon Callender, the director of the
New Mexico Museum of Natural History, on a raft trip, told him of
our concern. Arrangements were made for us “discoverers,”
Dennis Umshler, BLM paleontology coordinator, and Dave Gillette,
a paleontologist at the museum, to visit the site and decide what
should be done.
Within a week of our field trip, a video of the dinosaur appeared
on the evening news! One of our fears over the previous six years
had been quickly realized. When we reexamined the site we found
it covered with human footprints of all sizes.
Excavation was put on the fast track by the BLM and the museum.
Removal of the naturally revealed bones was accomplished quickly,
with Bill Norlander again recording the scene via video documentation.
Gillette named the dinosaur “seismosaurus,” and it
was soon internationally renowned (as the “world’s longest
dinosaur”), later to be published from professional papers
to children’s books. Much contention and dissension occurred
among the BLM, excavators, and wilderness advocates over the years,
but by 2002, in the main, science had prevailed over politics (see
Note: Dave Gillette asked the BLM and congressmen
in Washington, D.C., to have the Ojito dropped from wilderness consideration
so that roads could be created in it should any articulated dinosaur
bones be found. The wilderness community opposed this. Also, there
was friction within the BLM over this issue; and personalities clashed
at the museum, mostly concerning interpretation, promotion, and
authority over seismosaurus.