Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Particle or nuclear?

January 13, 2010

This is interesting. A Tehran University physics professor has been killed by a bomb planted outside his home. There is speculation whether this could be the work of outsiders, especially from Israel or the US.

To me the accusation that this was an Israeli operation seems anything but far fetched. After all there has been ample talk of the Israelis bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities the way they did with Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1980. But any such action would likely cause immense international outrage and political problems for Israel, not to mention added Arab animosity. Thus from their perspective the next best option would be to do something like this, assassinate someone who was playing a key role in the nuclear program with the hope that it would at least slow down Iran’s plans and intimidate them.

The trouble is that until now the specialty and role of the assassinated professor is not known. As the NYT reports,

There was some dispute about his field of scientific specialization.

The English-language Press TV said he taught neutron physics at Tehran University, although it was not clear whether he was part of Iran’s contentious nuclear enrichment program.

The broadcaster called the professor a ?staunch supporter of the Islamic Revolution? of 1979 that overthrew the Shah and initiated three decades of theocratic rule.

But two Iranian academics, who spoke in return for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said in telephone interviews that he was not a nuclear physicist and had specialized in particle and theoretical physics. The Web site of Tehran University lists him as a professor of elementary particle physics.

Now that’s silly. A professor who teaches neutron physics would likely know a lot about nuclear reactors and bombs; in 1939, the greatest expert in neutron physics in the world was Enrico Fermi, probably the most important physicist working on nuclear energy. Everyone should know that it does not matter much whether the dead professor’s field of specialty is “nuclear” or “theoretical and particle” physics since it is quite easy for a particle physicist to learn nuclear physics and vice versa (even the movies seem to have understood this; in the George Clooney-Nicole Kidman blockbuster “The Peacemaker”, the scientist working for the bad guys is an astrophysics PhD.)

Thus the unfortunate man’s specialty by itself does not at all preclude him from working on the nuclear program. Only time will tell what his exact role was.

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