The Nuclear Century in Google NGrams

By Alexis C. Madrigal

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/the-nuclear-century-in-google-ngrams/72461/