View Full Version : A scientist in the field------

September 26th, 2007, 10:41 PM
A Scientist in the Field:
It is here that Bernal’s role as a humanist, a scientist (as much a practical one as a theorist) and a catalyst come to the fore. The threat of German aerial bombing had created panic in London (those were the pre radar days) and even trained scientists (including his friend J.B.S. Haldane) could not predict the damage potential of bombs of different sizes. It was clear that the working class would be the most vulnerable section in the event of bombings. Bernal considered it his duty to educate the citizens about the possible damages, and in constructing damage proof shelters. He sought the help of his friend Solly Zuckerman - a doctor, turned anatomist, turned curator of zoo - to conduct practical experiments. Some abandoned shelters were selected in the countryside . Zuckermann and Bernal brought apes and pigeons and left them in these shelters. They contacted the police department for incendiary bombs of different sizes. With the official sanction the bombs were exploded at different distances from these shelters and then they examined the damages to these captive animals. In a later experiment the two friends acted as their own “guinea pigs”, sitting in the shelters while the bombs were exploded nearby! These simple experiments showed that the believed damage potentials of most of the bombs were highly exaggerated. Their results proved invaluable for civil defence, particularly in working class areas and also generated more confidence amongst the citizens.
This involvement helped Bernal and his friends in gaining acceptance from the governmental defence establishments, even though Bernal was not in good books , i.e. “as red as the fire of hell”. His one time enemy Lord Mountbatten now became his supporter, for the most committed anti fascists were the Reds. Bernal was one of the pioneers in applying operations research ideas in these war years and was directly involved in the D-Day landing of the Allied forces in Normandy. His special attention was in devising aerial photography methods to photograph the shapes of waves on the Normandy beaches under different conditions of wind. From the patterns of these waves he devised methods to determine the inclinations of the beaches and conclude whether they could withstand the landing of tanks and armoured vehicles.