Man of the Century

Albert Einstein has been chosen as the Man of the Century, and I certainly concur as far as my personal thoughts are concerned.

His thoughts and theories shaped my life in ways that I sometimes was not aware of, as well as at times that influenced my daily living. As a young man the ability to recite in condensed form his theory of relativity was a great intellectual and social accomplishment. In later years the practical aspects of that theory were perhaps instrumental in saving my life by ending the war against Japan.

His letter to FDR urging the president to accelerate the building of the atomic bomb ushered in the start of the atomic age. Years after the war ended, I joined in the effort to use the energy released by the atom for peaceful uses. My experiences and skills in writing led me to become an advocate for using this mighty force to serve, not to kill mankind.

When his theories were studied and mulled over by scientists in every nation in the world, a new dimension was added to physics, chemistry, biology and medicine, ideas spawned by his thinking led to engineering feats as well as the terrible force of the atom bomb. When the Manhattan District project for the building of the bomb had completed its task, scientists joined together to put this newly found information and know-how to use in a world of peace.

On Long Island, New York, not far from where Einstein had a summer cottage, the former Camp Upton was turned over to those dedicated scientists whose mission was to find and develop uses for atomic forces that would benefit a peacetime world. 

Some of the first fruits of this research were the use of radio- isotopes as tracers in medical diagnosis. Ways of controlling the release of the tremendous power in the atom eventually led to the generation of large amounts of electricity using small amounts of fuel. Inducing mutations of plants through exposure to radiation led to new varieties of grain that would help to feed the ever-increasing population of the earth. Even such ordinary things as pink grapefruit and large strawberries owe their popularity to botanists sifting through new mutations caused by radiation. 

With these new discoveries also came fear. Radiation could harm as well as help. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and the problem of atomic waste disposal caused the public to be wary of the new source of energy and be suspicious of any proposal to use this power. Here in Hernando County we are between two examples of this fear; the Crystal River Atomic Power plant, and the Food Technology Service plant in Mulberry.

Crystal River has been safely generating power for the area for many years now, and is expected to do so till the end of its planned life. The Food Technology Services plant has been in limited operation for several years now, and its methods have been endorsed by the American Medical Association , the Florida Department of Health and the World Health Organization. Starting in the year 2000 it will begin a massive test of consumer acceptance of radiation pasteurization of some foods to eliminate the danger of e.coli and salmonella.

During research trials of a facility similar to the one at Mulberry, I not only wrote about the trials, but had many opportunities to eat irradiated foods including potatos, mushrooms, strawberries and seafood. Grains being shipped overseas had already been irradiated to eliminate insect infestation, and it was found that the shelf life of many foods could be greatly extended by stopping or slowing the growth of bacteria and mold.

It's a long way from Einstein to irradiated food, or even radio-isotopes, but his theories made all of it possinble. People still have difficulty grasping the idea of atomic energy being a seperate issue from the atom bomb. The notion that radioactivity can and should be avoided does not go easily with the fact that naturally occurring radioactivity exists all around us in our food, the ground we walk on and even the air that we fly through or breathe is hard to accept.

It was just as hard for our fathers and grandfathers to accept pasteurization of milk and x-rays of our teeth and our bodies. Respectable scientists and researchers have already come to the conclusion that food irradiation is both harmless and beneficial to all of us. The coming years of the new millennium will see an acceptance of this technology, as well as the greatly reduced incidence of salmonella and e.coli infections.

Already many products besides foodstuffs in daily use are irradiated routinely; cosmetics, some food packaging, medical supplies, and even corks for wine bottles. In controlled circumstances small doses of ionizing radiation is already preventing or delaying the sprouting of potatoes and certain types of grains. For several years now some types of poultry have been irradiated and soon beef, pork and lamb will join the ranks of bacteria-free food available in supermarkets.

So, in addition to his saving me from a bloody invasion of Japan during WWII, Einstein has given my doctors the tool of radioisotopes to diagnose my illnesses, Light and power from the Crystal River plant helps me work my computer. If the food irradiation plan reaches the point of public acceptance, the picnic basket that I bring to Pine Island, will be free from worry about  causing salmonella or e.coli infection from the chicken or hot dogs that have been unrefrigerated for too long!

Einstein as the Man of The Century is I believe, a good choice even though I still don't fully understand the theory of relativity!

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