The Nuclear Century in Google NGrams

The 20th century was, in many ways, the nuclear century. In the span of 100 years, we modeled and split the atom, created nuclear weapons and converted big chunks of the power grid to run on electricity generated by atomic reactors.

Along the way, old hopes and fears about human power were given new forms and clothing. As with other technologies like steam engines ("get up a head of steam"), the technical language of the nuclear industry began to pervade common language (a child's "meltdown").

With the world's eyes focused on Japan's reactors and wondering what the trouble there will mean for the future of nuclear power, I thought I'd use Google's NGram viewer, which looks at the frequency that words appear in a massive corpus of books, to look at our relationship with the atom over time. This gallery shows you what I found.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Technology

Just In