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He stopped a critical nuclear reaction with his bare hands

Louis Alexander Slotin was a Canadian physicist and chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project where he had been tasked with experiments with uranium and plutonium cores to determine their critical mass values, a job at which he was considered to be an expert, but nevertheless a job referred to as "tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon" by Richard Fenyman.

On 21 May 1946, with seven colleagues watching, Slotin performed an experiment that involved the creation of one of the first steps of a fission reaction by placing two half-spheres of beryllium (a neutron reflector) around a plutonium core. Slotin maintained the separation between the 9-inch beryllium hemispheres using the blade of a screwdriver.

At 3:20 pm, the screwdriver slipped and the upper beryllium hemisphere fell, causing a "prompt critical" reaction and a burst of hard radiation. At the time, the scientists in the room observed the blue glow of air ionization and felt a heat wave. Slotin lifted the upper beryllium hemisphere and dropped it to the floor, ending the reaction. However, he had already been exposed to a lethal dose of neutron radiation.

Within minutes of the exposure, Slotin vomited, a common reaction from exposure to extremely intense ionizing radiation. He died nine days later.

According to the official story released at that time "Dr. Slotin's quick reaction at the immediate risk of his own life prevented a more serious development of the experiment which would certainly have resulted in the death of the seven men working with him, as well as serious injury to others in the general vicinity."

In 2002, an asteroid discovered in 1995 was named 12423 Slotin in his honor.

The accident has been detailed in at least three films, including the 1989 film Fat Man and Little Boy, a dramatization of the Manhattan Project starring Paul Newman. 

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