The Nuclear Century in Google NGrams

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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.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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