Friday, November 30, 2012

Impure natural penicillin, atomic steam engines versus pure synthetic penicillin and atomic bombs

Was Howard Florey the Harold Urey of wartime penicillin - was Harold Urey the Howard Florey of  wartime atomic energy ?

Impure natural penicillin powder was often called yellowcake, as was impure natural uranium powder : they are often hard to tell apart, at a glance.

Both are, to the right sort of twisted mind, nightmares chemically .

Penicillin is so closely related chemically to its (relatively harmless) natural impurities that it takes an army of chemists and a factory of expensive machinery to separate them apart.

In the beginning there were about one part penicillin to one million parts impurities : so you can see the work was cut out for our chemists.

But you don't have to all of this to do something useful with penicillin  --- to save lives with natural penicillin.

Uranium is ever worse, in some twisted minds .

U-235 and U-238 are the exact same chemically, differing only in atomic weight and even that slightly.

U-235 is found mixed with U-238, 150 parts U-238 to one of U235, a much greater ratio than found in the original penicillin.

But it can't be separated chemically and so is separated in mile square plants that cost about one trillion in today's dollars and work so slowly that material that goes into the process 50 years earlier might still be in there, circulating back and forth through the miles and miles of processing tubes and screens.

Each plant uses about as much energy as a poor small third world nation does in its entirety.

Raw, abundant U238 can do useful work - as it could in 1940 - creating steam in atomic ( nuclear) engines in submarines as the US Navy originally proposed.

Raw abundant natural penicillin can do useful work - as it could in 1940 - saving lives.

There is no real consensus on the most ignominious movements in Modernity : the choice is so broad - but Van Bush and the OSRD's touting of U-235 atomic bombs and synthetic penicillin rank well up there.

Both were potentially Nobel prize winning efforts (if either  had worked as well as planned) but neither were anything but expensive diversions on the way to winning the war....

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