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Clean, Limitless, Classified: The Secret Histories of Laser Fusion

Clean, Limitless, Classified: The Secret Histories of Laser Fusion

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Faculty House, Columbia University
64 Morningside Drive, New York, NY

Presented By

Presented by the History & Philosophy of Science Section of the New York Academy of Sciences


The invention of the laser and its proliferation in scientific settings created a unique problem for the United States government starting in the 1960s. The Cold War regime of nuclear secrecy had required an absolute legal distinction between "peaceful" civilian technology and "dangerous" military technology: the former needing wide dissemination and development by the private sector, the latter being tightly regulated under penalty of imprisonment and death. But the emergent technology of laser fusion began to challenge and blur these Cold War categories. For its proponents, which included both international scientists and private entrepreneurs, laser fusion held out the hope of clean, limitless power generation during a time of increasing energy instability. But at its heart was a form of physics that was, for government censors, far too near to the methods used in the design of advanced thermonuclear weapons. This talk will use newly declassified files to tell the international history of laser fusion in the 1960s and 1970s as a case study for looking at the unusual classification problems of late Cold War nuclear technology.

Alex Wellerstein is Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology. His work is on the history of nuclear technology and Cold War science, with a focus on nuclear weaponry and classification policies. He is in the final stages of a book on the history of nuclear secrecy in the United States, from the Manhattan Project through the "War on Terror." He is the author of a blog ("Restricted Data") on the history of all things nuclear, and is the creator of a popular online nuclear weapon effect simulator, the NUKEMAP.


Alex Wellerstein

Stevens Institute of Technology

Registration Pricing

This meeting is free and registration is not required.

Sponsoring Organizations

Metropolitan New York Section of the History of Science Society

New York University

Gallatin School of Individualized Study

Columbia University

University Seminar in History and Philosophy of Science

City University of New York Ph.D. Program in History

History of Science Lecture Series

New York Academy of Sciences

Section for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology

Travel & Lodging

Meeting Location

Faculty House, Columbia University
64 Morningside Drive
New York, NY 10027