“Otto Frisch Discovers Fission, 1938”

Rare earth sparks the clouds ******* between two wars. Fermi, Hahn and Strassman, ******* Joliot-Curie— all chemists, physicists, ******* track protons now. But Hitler’s blinders point ******* to Austria. The occupation interrupts ******* Aunt Lise’s parting of nature’s mists. ******* When she departs for Sweden, isotopes ******* of radium (she thinks) sit on her desk, ******* unanalyzed. Lonely, she summons me ******* north to Kungälv for our Christmas ritual. ******* Her colleague’s letter intercepts festivities. ******* The body’s tagged. Identified by Hahn. ******* It’s barium. I strap on skis; she demurs, ******* makes good her claim to move as fast without. ******* The woods that wall the Göta älv become ******* our conference room; a fallen spruce’s trunk ******* our sticky seat, my pockets stocked with scraps ******* of hotel paper. We know uranium ******* can’t crack in two against the grain of Gamow’s ******* alpha theory. Yet it does. We turn ******* to Schrödinger for insight: particles ******* are waves. Then Bohr: a nucleus is liquid, ******* like a drop. Our thought: that heavy nuclei ******* must undulate like water molecules, ******* collectively. In larger elements ******* charge balances the surface tension. Struck ******* even lightly, in neutron capture, ******* the pseudo drop will wobble, waist, and split. ******* Sometimes physics lacks words for what we think. ******* Its abstract paths— quantum tunnel effects, ******* packing fractions, and disintegration— ******* lead to thickets where neutrons multiply ******* like rabbits, wildly. The winter woods are gone. ******* The mind’s meadows bloom as I calculate ******* the energy released: two hundred million ******* electron volts. Now atoms break and breed ******* like living cells. I name their splitting “fission”******* and publish it where even Nazi stooges ******* can read the news.