Much has been written about the Manhattan Project, the American-led project to develop the atomic bomb. Less well known is Nazi Germany’s “Uranium Club”—a similar project started a full two years before the Manhattan Project. The Nazis had some of the greatest chemists and physicists in the world on their side, including Werner Heisenberg, and the Allies were terrified that the Nazis would beat them to the bomb—meaning the Allies were willing to try anything from espionage to assassination to bombing raids to stop them.
Science writer Sam Kean joins Ira to tell the high-stakes story written in his new book The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb.
Plus, "spontaneous generation" was the idea that living organisms can spring into existence from non-living matter. In the late 19th century, in a showdown between chemist Louis Pasteur and biologist Felix Pouchet put on by the French Academy of Sciences, Pasteur famously came up with an experiment that debunked the theory. He showed that when you boil an infusion to kill everything inside and don’t let any particles get into it, life will not spontaneously emerge inside. His experiments have been considered a win for science—but they weren’t without controversy.
In this interview, Undiscovered’s Elah Feder, Ira Flatow, and historian James Strick talk about what scientists of Pasteur’s day really thought of his experiment, the role the Catholic church played in shutting down “spontaneous generation,” and why even Darwin did his best to dodge the topic.