The Nazis did some pretty messed up stuff.
In addition to their genocidal habits — which, understandably, tends to be the focus of their fucked-up-ed-ness — the Nazis also got involved with some mad science (some of which also contributed to the aforementioned genocide). Like a lot of powerful nations at the time, this included some nuclear aspirations. While Allied Forces recovered some 600 or so two-by-two-inch uranium cubes from the lab of Werner Heisenberg — yes, that Heisenberg — in the Swabian Alps town of Haigerloch, several hundred more of these Nazi uranium cubes ultimately went missing from Kurt Diebner's lab at the Gottow experimental site.
That's right: hundreds of Nazi-purified uranium cubes just up and disappeared.
One of them made its way to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNLL) in the United States — though it's not exactly clear how it got there. The University of Maryland also has access to a few of them. But 80 years later, the rest of them are still AWOL.
The Heisenberg uranium cubes and the Diebner uranium cubes were obtained through different methods, and scientists know enough about radiation that they can identify the source of a particular cube by tracing the evidence of these methods. And now, according to SkyNews, this may help them figure out where the hell those cubes have been this whole time:
As explained by the American Chemical Society: "When the cubes were first cast, they contained fairly pure uranium metal. As time passed, radioactive decay transformed some of the uranium into thorium and protactinium."
[Brittany] Robertson [a doctoral student at PNNL] has adapted a radiochronometry procedure to separate and quantify these elements in PNNL's cube, developing a method that shows how their relative concentrations reveal how long ago the cube was made.
If refined, the method could also allow researchers to analyse rare-earth element impurities in the cube, revealing where the original uranium was mined which would indicate whether it was produced for the Heisenberg or Diebner group.
Robertson and Dr Schwantes are working with Dr Carlos Fraga at PNLL to examine the coatings of the cubes too, something which different laboratories applied to prevent the uranium from oxidising.
Ars Technica adds:
So far, initial findings have confirmed that at least one of the three cubes being tested at PNNL is natural uranium. There are also preliminary results from Robertson's analysis of the coatings the Germans applied to the cubes to keep oxidation in check. Cyanide-based coatings were used by the Berlin group, while Diebner's Gottow group used styrene-based coatings. If one could accurately measure the relevant signatures, it would enable the team to tell whether a given cube came from the Berlin or Gottow group.
Koeth's cube [at the University of Maryland] was among those tested, revealing a styrene coating—a bit of a surprise, given that Koeth's historic sleuthing tracked the cube to the Berlin group. However, it turns out that Diebner sent some of his group's cubes to Heisenberg in Berlin when the latter sought more fuel for his reactor. So Koeth's cube may possibly have been used by both groups.
This is significant for two reasons. First, it reveals just how far along the Nazis' potential nuclear bomb development program had actually been. And second, because misplaced Nazi cubes of magic metal is literally how you get the Red Skull, and no one wants the Red Skull.
Hundreds of cubes of Nazi uranium are missing – now scientists have a new way to spot them [Alexander Martin / SkyNews]
New evidence shows this uranium cube is likely relic of Nazi A-bomb program [Jennifer Ouellete / Ars Technica]
Image via YouTube