Required Essay 2 Version 1 (RE2v1)


You are an analyst for the Congressional Research Service in the early 1940s, and representatives from President Roosevelt have asked you to write a brief report for a select group of senators and representatives. Funding for the Manhattan Project must be kept almost entirely hidden from members of Congress, but the support of these select individuals will help push certain funding measures through and allow the project to proceed without undue pressure or curiosity from the rest of the legislative branch. 

These members of Congress require some preliminary scientific background on this project. In your report you should brief these individuals on the following preliminary questions: 

  1. What is the definition of a fissionable nuclide? A fissile nuclide? A fertile nuclide? In your explanation, list an example of a fissile nuclide, an example of a fissionable nuclide that is not fissile, and an example of a fertile nuclide.
  2. What is the definition of a nuclear-explosive nuclide? Of a nuclear-explosive material? Are all fissile nuclides nuclear-explosive nuclides? Explain why some nuclides that are not fissile are nevertheless nuclear-explosive. In your explanation, list an example of an important nuclear-explosive nuclide that is not fissile.
  3. Explain in one or two paragraphs the basic, general requirements for achieving a nuclear explosion using nuclear explosive material. Do not go into any of the details of particular weapon designs.
  4. Explain in one paragraph why the energy released in a nuclear explosion is much greater than the energy released in the explosion of a conventional bomb. In a separate paragraph illustrating the magnitude of energy release of a nuclear explosion, suggest a concrete scenario for the use of a nuclear weapon in the ongoing war effort (World War II).

Base your essay on the information in the assigned reading "Physics and Technology of Nuclear-Explosive Materials" and the current (Spring 2017) class slides on Nuclear Weapons.


In writing your essay, assume that your reader is a college-educated member of congress who is familiar with the material that has been presented in the lecture-discussions and the material in the readings that have already been assigned, but be sure to define all the terms you are asked to define in the prompt above. You do not need to place these definitions in quotes, but you do need to provide citations for them.


Your essay should be 2 pages, when printed in the format specified in the Student Handbook, including the title, headers, and footers. To check this, you should print the exact version you are going to submit. If your paper is longer than 2 pages when printed, the score it would have received will be marked down heavily.

The Student Handbook provides complete guidance for preparing and submitting writing assignments. Before you turn in your essay, be sure to review the writing assignment submission checklist in the Handbook.

Additional formatting requirements from the Congressional Research Service:

  • Your report should begin with a title that briefly describes the content of the report.
    • Center the title.
    • Set the title in bold, 16-pt font.
  • After the title, include a brief (2-4 sentence) summary of the content of your report.
    • Include a left-aligned “Summary” heading to clearly indicate this section.
    • The heading should be set in bold, 14-pt font.
  • Each of the four sections should begin with a left-aligned heading indicating the contents.
    • Set each heading in bold, 14-pt font.
    • Keep these short.
  • Key terms should be in bold the first time you use them.
  • Use footnotes for citation.


Citation of sources:

You do not need to give citations when the information you use is common knowledge. In deciding what is common knowledge, consider what is known by a typical University of Illinois student who is not a student in Physics 280. If in doubt, include a citation.

As the sources you are to use in preparing this essay are clearly specified, there should be no doubt about what sources are being used for this assignment. Nevertheless, for practice we require explicit citations of all sources used for any definitions in the Required Essays.

To save space in the Required Essays, which are only a few pages long, we recommend referring to Physics 280 class slides using the style [17p280 Nuclear Weapons, slide 15] and to pages in "Physics and Technology of Nuclear-Explosive Materials" using the style [NEM, page 221]. The page numbers for the NEM reading are 221-226, respectively. Please use the slide numbers that apply to the file from the course website, not Top Hat. (More complete citations will be required in the Research Paper for sources other than Physics 280 slides.)

Do not include a bibliography or a list of references.

If you would like to see examples of reports from the Congressional Research Service, consider the following:

These are meant to be examples of formatting, but your report will be much shorter. You also do not need a contents section, subheadings, etc.

Further guidance:
  • Begin each section with a strong topic sentence.
  • Omit any information that is not essential.
  • Your answer to the third question should occupy about 1/3 of your essay.
  • If you are uncertain about any of the example nuclides you are asked to give, make an educated guess.
  • Avoid repetition - just say what you want to say, once!