In the summer of 1939 Albert Einstein was on holiday in a small resort town on the tip of Long Island. His peaceful summer, however, was about to be shattered by a visit from an old friend and colleague from his years in Berlin. The visitor was the physicist Leo Szilard. He had come to tell Einstein that he feared the Nazis could soon be in possession of a terrible new weapon and that something had to be done.
Szilard believed that recent scientific breakthroughs meant it was now possible to convert mass into energy. And that this could be used to make a bomb. If this were to happen, it would be a terrible realisation of the law of nature Einstein had discovered some 34 years earlier.
September 1905 was Einstein's 'miracle year'. While working as a patents clerk in the Swiss capital Berne Einstein submitted a three-page supplement to his special theory of relativity, published earlier that year. In those pages he derived the most famous equation of all time; e=mc²energy is equal to mass multiplied by the speed of light squared.