The Pulitzer Prize Story: News Stories, Editorials, Cartoons, and Pictures from the Pulitzer Prize Collection at Columbia University

By John Hohenberg | Go to book overview

VIII. NEW SUNS AND NEW MOONS:
SPACE AND THE ATOM

"A new method of exploiting atoms, and thus transmuting or disintegrating elements . . . was laid today before the American Association for the Advancement of Science ..."

The story was from the New York Times. The reporter: Alva Johnston. The place: Cambridge, Mass. The date: December 30, 1922.

It is curious, in the light of today's world when any bright schoolboy knows the basic importance of the hydrogen atom, to read Johnston's pioneering story on the subject. He wrote that S. A. Mitchell, vice president of the AAAS Astronomical Section, had said the fundamental element of matter is probably hydrogen, "all others being made up out of hydrogen ..."

Discussing Dr. Louis Bell's experiments in smashing carbon atoms into helium under great electrical temperatures, Dr. Mitchell was quoted as follows in the Johnston story:

"These results suggest the view that the nuclei of all atoms are made up of multiples of hydrogen nuclei, each carrying a unit positive charge, the combination being bound together by external electrons."

Without really knowing it, man stood on the threshhold of the atomic age in 1922. Johnston's report was the first science story to win a Pulitzer Prize for Reporting.

There was much more about atomic energy in the coverage of science at the tercentenary of Harvard University, for which five reporters including William L. Laurence of the New York Times were awarded Pulitzer Prizes in 1937

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