The memo landed on Kim Philby's desk in Washington, DC, in July 1950. Three months later, Bruno Pontecorvo, a physicist at Harwell, Britain's atomic energy lab, disappeared without a trace. When he re-surfaced six years later, he was on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
One of the most brilliant scientists of his generation, Pontecorvo was privy to many secrets: he had worked on the Anglo-Canadian arm of the Manhattan Project, and quietly discovered a way to find the uranium coveted by nuclear powers. Yet when he disappeared MI5 insisted he was not a threat. Now, based on unprecedented access to archives, letters, surviving family members and scientists, award-winning writer and physics professor Frank Close exposes the truth about a man irrevocably marked by the advent of the atomic age and the Cold War.
When Italian physicist Bruno Pontecorvo (1913 1993) disappeared in 1950, everyone believed he had fled to the U.S.S.R. to escape the fate of physicist Klaus Fuchs, arrested earlier that year "for passing atomic secrets" to the Soviets. Five years later, Pontecorvo surfaced in Moscow, explaining that he had moved to escape persecution for antiwar views and that his work had no military applications. Proof that Pontecorvo spied remains elusive, but Close, a professor of physics at Oxford, delivers an intensively researched, engrossing biography that turns up some suspicious behavior and mildly incriminating documents. Pontecorvo was a science prodigy who studied under Enrico Fermi in Rome, contributing to Fermi's 1938 Nobel winning studies on neutron bombardment of the atomic nucleus. In 1936 he joined the Paris laboratory of Ir ne and Fr d ric Joliot-Curie, where he enhanced his reputation, absorbed their left-wing views, and joined the Communist Party. Work on various projects brought him to the U.S., Canada, and finally Britain before his disappearance at the height of Cold War spy hysteria. Whether or not he was a spy, he was undoubtedly a brilliant scientist. Close serves Pontecorvo well in this outstanding biography, illuminating his work as well as the painful political conflicts of his time.