Nuclear Landmines and Chickens – Periodic Table of Videos

published on July 9, 2020

So I've got really quite a funny storyto tell you last year as many of youknow was the International Year of theperiodic table and during the yearI've been going round all sorts ofplaces giving essentially a very similarlecture about the periodic table and the

Lecture takes the form of a tour roundmy office at the University ofNottingham showing you some of theperiodic tables that I got and oneparticular thing I show is a periodictable from the Royal Australian chemical

Institute which was devised for theInternational Year of chemistry nineyears ago and artists from Tasmaniapainted pictures of all sorts ofdifferent elements and one of theartists sent me a picture of the element

Gallium now I explained that thispicture is a joke on several differentlevels you can see it's got a cockerelin the middle which is the symbol ofFrance gallium is named after Franceafter the Latin name for France gall

It's also a joke because the Latin wordfor a chicken is galas so you have theFrench symbol and the pan in Latin andthen there's a third joke because thechemist who discovered at least isolatedgallium for the first time was called

Lacock which is the French for cockerelso there's a third joke now if you lookat the top right-hand corner there's aradioactive symbol and for all theselectures I've each time saying I had noidea why that symbol is there and then

My last lecture which was just over amonth ago just before the lockdown oneof the people in the audience was theboyfriend of one of our nottinghamstudents and she told him about thelecture and

He came along and after the lecture hethought of an explanation of theradioactive symbol and got the studentto email it to me and his explanationwas really quite funny and reallyunusual and involves chickens he pointed

Out that in the late 1950s the BritishArmy in Germany had a mad scheme to stopthe Russians invading Germany if theytried and their scheme was to burynuclear bombs under the ground and theidea was that if the Russians invaded

These bombs could be blown up so thesewere nuclear landminesbut really quite powerful nearly aspowerful as the dreadful bomb thatdestroyed Hiroshima in Japanunfortunately there was a technical

Problem that when you buried these minesthese nuclear mines under the ground inwinter they could get cold and theelectronics which in those days werequite primitive might stop working nowyou have to realize these bombs were

Really large the size of a large freezerif not bigger there was really quite alot of space inside the casing and sothe proposed solution to this freezingof the electronics was to put some grainand some water and a chicken a live

Chicken inside the bomb case before weburied it it was worked out that thechicken would live for about a weekbefore it died and that was long enoughbecause if the invasion hadn't takenplace within the week you could dig up

The mine and recharge it the idea wasthat the chicken would produce enoughbody heat just to keep the electronswarm presumably when it died it wouldbecome a frozen chicken professor whatwould happen to the chicken if they

Ended up having to set the bomb off wellthe chicken would have been evaporatedtogether with much of the rest of thesurrounding area all right so then youget a roast chicken well I think youwould get a vaporized chicken if not an

Atomized chicken although the Britishare very sentimental about animals Idon't think they were worried about thechicken this whole project was calledOperation blue peacock the boyfriendsexplanation was that this radioactive

Symbol referred to Operation Bluepeacock because of course there's thechicken on the painting and and also thepiece of artwork is quite blue in colorisn't it yes so I thought this wasreally clever and I also thought that it

Demonstrated quite a nice point aboutscientific experiments that when you'rebuilding some expensive is somecomplicated piece of equipment you needto spend a lot of money on the key partsbut for the less important parts you can

Use really quite a simple device just toachieve whatever you want in this caseusing a chicken as a heater what do youthink of that idea professor I thinkit's completely mad but I think in theend it was also considered mad by

Everybody because it was neverimplemented however and the really nicetwist to this story is I suddenlythought I could goggle the Australianwebsite and see what the artist saidabout this radioactive symbol and it

Turns out that the explanations reallyboring it's a reference to the use ofradioactive gallium in medicine for somesort of treatment or diagnosis so theblue peacock although true wascompletely irrelevant and that

Demonstrates another really importantprinciple of sciencewhich was propounded in medieval timesand is called Occam's razorakhom is the guy who thought of it andrazor is the thing that you use for

Shaving and Occam's razor says when youhave some effect some problem and youhave two explanations one that's simpleand the other that's complicated it'susually the simple one that is correctso this picture has given me great

Pleasure because taught me aboutoperation blue peacock that I knewnothing about and gave me a nicereminder about Occam's razor professoryou mentioned that they didn't end upusing the chickens because they thought

It was probably a mad idea did theyactually end up using the nuclear mindsto in case of the Russian invasion ordid that not happen either no I thinkthey didn't they thought the idea of thenuclear mines was a bad idea and

Therefore they didn't need the chickensI don't think the people who wereresponsible for strategy went down tothe level of the chickens inside thebombso the question you didn't ask me and

Which really intrigues me is whathappened if the chickens started layingeggs inside the bomb would that haveupset the electronics

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