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- Mar 14, 2020

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**Fluid dynamics**

Von Neumann made fundamental contributions in the field of fluid dynamics.

Von Neumann's contributions to fluid dynamics included his discovery of the classic flow solution to blast waves,[111] and the co-discovery (independently of Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich and Werner Döring) of the ZND detonation model of explosives.[112] During the 1930s, von Neumann became an authority on the mathematics of shaped charges.[113]

Later with Robert D. Richtmyer, von Neumann developed an algorithm defining

*artificial viscosity*that improved the understanding of shock waves. When computers solved hydrodynamic or aerodynamic problems, they tried to put too many computational grid points at regions of sharp discontinuity (shock waves). The mathematics of

*artificial viscosity*smoothed the shock transition without sacrificing basic physics.[114]

Von Neumann soon applied computer modelling to the field, developing software for his ballistics research. During WW2, he arrived one day at the office of R.H. Kent, the Director of the US Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory, with a computer program he had created for calculating a one-dimensional model of 100 molecules to simulate a shock wave. Von Neumann then gave a seminar on his computer program to an audience which included his friend Theodore von Kármán. After von Neumann had finished, von Kármán said "Well, Johnny, that's very interesting. Of course you realize Lagrange also used digital models to simulate continuum mechanics." It was evident from von Neumann's face, that he had been unaware of Lagrange's Mécanique analytique.[115]

**Mastery of mathematics**

Stan Ulam, who knew von Neumann well, described his mastery of mathematics this way: "Most mathematicians know one method. For example, Norbert Wiener had mastered Fourier transforms. Some mathematicians have mastered two methods and might really impress someone who knows only one of them. John von Neumann had mastered three methods." He went on to explain that the three methods were:

- A facility with the symbolic manipulation of linear operators;
- An intuitive feeling for the logical structure of any new mathematical theory;
- An intuitive feeling for the combinatorial superstructure of new theories.[116]

Edward Teller wrote that "Nobody knows all science, not even von Neumann did. But as for mathematics, he contributed to every part of it except number theory and topology. That is, I think, something unique."[117]

Von Neumann was asked to write an essay for the layman describing what mathematics is, and produced a beautiful analysis. He explained that mathematics straddles the world between the empirical and logical, arguing that geometry was originally empirical, but Euclid constructed a logical, deductive theory. However, he argued, that there is always the danger of straying too far from the real world and becoming irrelevant sophistry.[118][119][120]

**Nuclear weapons**

Von Neumann's wartime Los Alamos ID badge photo

**Manhattan Project**

Beginning in the late 1930s, von Neumann developed an expertise in explosions—phenomena that are difficult to model mathematically. During this period, von Neumann was the leading authority of the mathematics of shaped charges. This led him to a large number of military consultancies, primarily for the Navy, which in turn led to his involvement in the Manhattan Project. The involvement included frequent trips by train to the project's secret research facilities at the Los Alamos Laboratory in a remote part of New Mexico.[30]

Von Neumann made his principal contribution to the atomic bomb in the concept and design of the explosive lenses that were needed to compress the plutonium core of the Fat Man weapon that was later dropped on Nagasaki. While von Neumann did not originate the "implosion" concept, he was one of its most persistent proponents, encouraging its continued development against the instincts of many of his colleagues, who felt such a design to be unworkable. He also eventually came up with the idea of using more powerful shaped charges and less fissionable material to greatly increase the speed of "assembly".[121]

When it turned out that there would not be enough uranium-235 to make more than one bomb, the implosive lens project was greatly expanded and von Neumann's idea was implemented. Implosion was the only method that could be used with the plutonium-239 that was available from the Hanford Site.[122] He established the design of the explosive lenses required, but there remained concerns about "edge effects" and imperfections in the explosives.[123] His calculations showed that implosion would work if it did not depart by more than 5% from spherical symmetry.[124] After a series of failed attempts with models, this was achieved by George Kistiakowsky, and the construction of the Trinity bomb was completed in July 1945.[125]

In a visit to Los Alamos in September 1944, von Neumann showed that the pressure increase from explosion shock wave reflection from solid objects was greater than previously believed if the angle of incidence of the shock wave was between 90° and some limiting angle. As a result, it was determined that the effectiveness of an atomic bomb would be enhanced with detonation some kilometers above the target, rather than at ground level.[126][127]

Implosion mechanism

Von Neumann, four other scientists, and various military personnel were included in the target selection committee that was responsible for choosing the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the first targets of the atomic bomb. Von Neumann oversaw computations related to the expected size of the bomb blasts, estimated death tolls, and the distance above the ground at which the bombs should be detonated for optimum shock wave propagation and thus maximum effect. The cultural capital Kyoto, which had been spared the bombing inflicted upon militarily significant cities, was von Neumann's first choice,[128] a selection seconded by Manhattan Project leader General Leslie Groves. However, this target was dismissed by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson.[129]

On July 16, 1945, von Neumann and numerous other Manhattan Project personnel were eyewitnesses to the first test of an atomic bomb detonation, which was code-named Trinity. The event was conducted as a test of the implosion method device, at the bombing range near Alamogordo Army Airfield, 35 miles (56 km) southeast of Socorro, New Mexico. Based on his observation alone, von Neumann estimated the test had resulted in a blast equivalent to 5 kilotons of TNT (21 TJ) but Enrico Fermi produced a more accurate estimate of 10 kilotons by dropping scraps of torn-up paper as the shock wave passed his location and watching how far they scattered. The actual power of the explosion had been between 20 and 22 kilotons.[130] It was in von Neumann's 1944 papers that the expression "kilotons" appeared for the first time.[131] After the war, Robert Oppenheimer remarked that the physicists involved in the Manhattan project had "known sin". Von Neumann's response was that "sometimes someone confesses a sin in order to take credit for it."[132]

Von Neumann continued unperturbed in his work and became, along with Edward Teller, one of those who sustained the hydrogen bomb project. He collaborated with Klaus Fuchs on further development of the bomb, and in 1946 the two filed a secret patent on "Improvement in Methods and Means for Utilizing Nuclear Energy", which outlined a scheme for using a fission bomb to compress fusion fuel to initiate nuclear fusion.[133] The Fuchs–von Neumann patent used radiation implosion, but not in the same way as is used in what became the final hydrogen bomb design, the Teller–Ulam design. Their work was, however, incorporated into the "George" shot of Operation Greenhouse, which was instructive in testing out concepts that went into the final design.[134] The Fuchs–von Neumann work was passed on to the Soviet Union by Fuchs as part of his nuclear espionage, but it was not used in the Soviets' own, independent development of the Teller–Ulam design. The historian Jeremy Bernstein has pointed out that ironically, "John von Neumann and Klaus Fuchs, produced a brilliant invention in 1946 that could have changed the whole course of the development of the hydrogen bomb, but was not fully understood until after the bomb had been successfully made."[134]

For his wartime services, von Neumann was awarded the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award in July 1946, and the Medal for Merit in October 1946.[135]

**Atomic Energy Commission**

In 1950, von Neumann became a consultant to the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG),[136] whose function was to advise the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the United States Secretary of Defense on the development and use of new technologies.[137] He also became an adviser to the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (AFSWP), which was responsible for the military aspects on nuclear weapons. Over the following two years, he became a consultant to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a member of the influential General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, a consultant to the newly established Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group of the United States Air Force.[136]

In 1955, von Neumann became a commissioner of the AEC. He accepted this position and used it to further the production of compact hydrogen bombs suitable for Intercontinental ballistic missile delivery. He involved himself in correcting the severe shortage of tritium and lithium 6 needed for these compact weapons, and he argued against settling for the intermediate-range missiles that the Army wanted. He was adamant that H-bombs delivered into the heart of enemy territory by an ICBM would be the most effective weapon possible, and that the relative inaccuracy of the missile wouldn't be a problem with an H-bomb. He said the Russians would probably be building a similar weapon system, which turned out to be the case.[138][139] Despite his disagreement with Oppenheimer over the need for a crash program to develop the hydrogen bomb, he testified on the latter's behalf at the 1954 Oppenheimer security hearing, at which he asserted that Oppenheimer was loyal, and praised him for his helpfulness once the program went ahead.[18]

Shortly before his death from cancer, von Neumann headed the United States government's top secret ICBM committee, which would sometimes meet in his home. Its purpose was to decide on the feasibility of building an ICBM large enough to carry a thermonuclear weapon. Von Neumann had long argued that while the technical obstacles were sizable, they could be overcome in time. The SM-65 Atlas passed its first fully functional test in 1959, two years after his death. The feasibility of an ICBM owed as much to improved, smaller warheads as it did to developments in rocketry, and his understanding of the former made his advice invaluable.[140]