katastrofa wrote:Alan wrote:Fair point as to the knowledge at the time.
As to "he ... possibly didn't even want to suggest that the process was realisable", we have some famous evidence against that:Wigner and Szilard went on the sixteenth of July (1939) to inform Einstein about the recent physics findings and to ask if he would compose a letter to the queen. Learning of the possibility of a chain reaction, Einstein famously said "Daran habe ich gar nicht gedacht" ("I hadn't thought of that at all").
From a very nice book about Fermi I just finished and highly recommend: "The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age".
I know a different version of that story: the famous letter (the same one I mentioned above) warning about German plans of building a nuclear bomb was addressed to Roosevelt (not the queen) and urged him to launch what was later called Manhattan Project. I find it hard to believe that Einstein didn't know about a chain reaction, because afair the effect had been already discovered and published (after years of a research surge and international scientific competition); so was Lise Meitner's theoretical explanation, the central part of which was mc^2. Suggesting that Einstein wasn't aware of it seems like saying that a nowadays scientist hasn't heard of an AI and didn't think of its potential threats. Thus I'm pretty sure that he realised and discussed with others the possible military applications. Einstein was an incorrigible pacifist (and a celebrity who didn't want to be associated with the bomb), even worse than Meitner who rejected her invitation to Los Alamos while her male colleagues flocked there blinded by the promise of prestige, power, fame and money. Of course, I may be wrong. (I personally believe that Einstein was right about virtually everything - maybe except the little "2" which should probably be blamed on von Haas's poor experimental skills - just the people who call themselves scientists these days need several more decades to comprehend it.)
I am just relaying the account in the book. There were two letters discussed with Einstein. According to that, the first was to be to the queen of Belgium (it wasn't really created, just discussed) and that is when Einstein gave the famous reaction quoted. The second and more famous one is the one you know and was sent to Roosevelt. I attach the book account.
Of course, there are many Einstein biographical sources. If you can track down some support for your intuition about what Einstein should have known, it would be interesting to discover.