The Frisch-Peierls Memorandum 80 years on

2 June 2020

In March, the Department of Physics welcomed Dr Kim Budil and Professor Emeritus Frank Close to deliver a lecture giving two very different perspectives on high-energy-density science. The event marked 80 years of the Frisch-Peierls Memorandum and a drinks reception was held at the department’s own Rudolph Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics.

Frisch-Peierls2 ©WJackson_OxfordPhysics.jpg

Dr Budil, as Principal Associate Director at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, gave a potted history of the science through the lens of the USA expounding historical milestones and infrastructure as well as outlining a roadmap for the future. She followed Professor Close who shared his insightful – and fascinating – research into Klaus Fuchs, the physicist-turned-Soviet-spy who worked alongside both Frisch and Peierls. Professor Close shared two pieces of evidence of Fuchs’ duplicity abstracted from his recently published book, Trinity.

An historic document

The event was organised by Peter Norreys, Professor of Inertial Fusion Science at the Department of Physics: ‘The Frisch-Peierls memorandum is arguably one of the most historic documents of the 20th century and so it was fitting to mark its 80th anniversary. Inertial fusion energy has great potential for good and it is important to recognise this – as well as acknowledge the world-changing origins of the discovery.’

Professor John Chalker is Head of the Rudolph Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics at Oxford; what is the significance of Rudolph Peierls’ scientific legacy for him? ‘Rudolf Peierls is remembered for the exceptional breadth of his research interests, and for establishing outstanding research schools in Birmingham and Oxford. Today we do our best to continue the dialogue between different branches of physics, with a commitment to the next generation of physicists and in a similar internationalist spirit.’

And how does the document resonate with those studying today? Third year DPhil student Benjamin Spiers adds: ‘As a student with research interests including inertial confinement fusion (ICF) energy, it’s impossible to ignore the military applications of ICF facilities like the National Ignition Facility and Laser Mégajoule, without which the respective governments may not have been persuaded to fund them in the first place. I remain hopeful that the ultimate legacy of the development of nuclear weaponry – initiated by Frisch and Peierls in their 1940 memorandum – will be to usher in an age of clean, limitless energy and free humanity from the increasingly imminent threat of climate change.’

Images © WJackson/Oxford Physics