| On February 3, I introduced a new feature on the site which I dubbed "NUKEMAP." This was a Google Maps "mashup" which attempted to give a rough approximation of the main effects of the detonation of a nuclear weapon. Specifically, NUKEMAP allows a user to input an arbitrary location and an arbitrary explosive yield. By default, it targets wherever the user is accessing the site from, and gives a list of historical weapons yields to choose from.
When the user clicks "Detonate," colored circles are drawn upon the map corresponding to the size of the nuclear fireball, the ranges of 20 psi and 4.6 psi overpressures (the former would destroy most buildings, the latter mostly residential buildings), acute radiation exposure at a 500 rem dose (which has between 50% and 90% mortality rates), and thermal radiation of sufficient energy to impart third-degree burns and start small fires (~10 calories/cm2). Qualitative descriptions accompany the visual image.
From a physics perspective, NUKEMAP is a simplistic model. It assumes an optimum burst height (not likely in any nuclear terrorism scenarios) and completely ignores topography, weather, wind, building types, and at the present, does not attempt to display fallout. It does not take into account numerous other effects associated with nuclear weapons, such as atmospheric focusing or anything related to specialized designs (e.g., enhanced radiation warheads, or even changed fission/fusion ratios). From an educational standpoint, though, NUKEMAP allows even someone without any prior physics education to get an instant, qualitative view of the effects of idealized nuclear weapons charted over distances that are intimately familiar to them.
NUKEMAP is not the first online nuclear effects mapper, but it combines an easy and familiar interface with a wider range of qualitative effects. I expected it to be of some interest to the general public, but I didn't build it to coincide with any particular political agenda or even to capitalize on the latest nuclear news.
So I was caught off guard when it went viral on February 15. It was first picked up by two prominent UK tabloids, and from there diffused to Facebook, Twitter, and smaller blogs. From these multiple "small" traffic sources, it would then again get picked up by a large, centralized traffic source, which would then drive it to more "small" sources, and so on in an alternating fashion.
Over the course of the next three weeks, this viral surge brought over 600,000 unique visitors who would use the NUKEMAP application, detonating over 3 million "bombs." My logs show that most people were setting off weapons primarily in their own hometowns, and that they were primarily experimenting to see the effects of the very smallest and the very largest historical nuclear weapons.
As an educator, what I've taken away from this is that people are still as interested as ever in nuclear weapons (especially historical ones), that pedagogical tools that give users simple flexibility to engage and try new things probably have much more popular appeal than those where the options are more fixed and limited. I've also found that nobody tires of making bad puns about nuclear sites "exploding" onto the web scene.
|March meeting of the American Physical Society in Boston, AIP's magazine marketing director Jeff Bebee staffed the Computing in Science and Engineering (CiSE) booth. Over the course of the meeting, at least 115 attendees signed up for new subscriptions. More than 600 APS members subscribe to CiSE, making APS the second-largest source of CiSE readers (second only to the IEEE Computer Society, which publishes CiSE jointly with AIP).|
The APS March meeting afforded the opportunity to recognize several distinguished scientists for their contributions to science and to the community. Three of these awards were related to AIP. We proudly draw your attention to:
March–April 2012 issue (vol. 14, no. 2)
Guest editor Jeffrey Carver, University of Alabama, describes the key issues and ongoing concerns in the field of software engineering for computational science and engineering, and discusses how the articles in this special issue explore necessary solutions.
*All AIP Events listed below are in College Park, MD
Wednesday, March 21
Thursday, March 22
Friday, March 23
March 31–April 3