Samuel T. Cohen, an American physicist best known for his work on weapons for the United States Army, died on Monday, Nov. 28, 2010, in Los Angeles from complications due to stomach cancer.
Cohen joined the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. His first major work with weaponry was on the Manhattan Project, which produced the first, and so far only, two nuclear weapons that were fired against an enemy. Specifically, Cohen’s work on the project was on the effects of nuclear fallout. He was even present to witness some of the groundbreaking tests, including the Trinity test in New Mexico.
In 1951, Cohen visited Vietnam and saw the destruction of the current bombs. This was the catalyst for the invention of a new type of weapon that would minimize collateral damage while still being effective against enemy combatants. It would be years before the actual development of the neutron bomb would begin, and just over a decade before the first testing of the bomb. The Regan Administration stockpiled the bomb, but later administrations have destroyed that stockpile. Cohen received a peace medal from then-Pope John Paul I for his work on the neutron bomb. The bomb was never fired against an enemy.
The neutron bomb was significantly different from other types of weapons of mass destruction. An atomic bomb, like the two bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, caused instant and violent destruction of anything within miles of the epicenter. Those who were not instantly killed would suffer severe burns or die days later. The neutron bomb, on the other hand, was billed as a more humane weapon. It didn’t have the radius of destruction that the atomic bomb did, and it was effective on living cells. It did not have the capacity to heat up enough to cause the burns or vaporization effects that the atomic bombs could. The neutron bomb sends out waves of radiation that can penetrate metal and other non-living objects and attack living cells. The radiation was not intended to cause instant death, but an agonizing death over a few days.
Samuel T. Cohen leaves behind his wife, three children and three grandchildren.