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image: Campus NewsTime for a change
Let the world be on notice: the clock is ticking." These were the ominous words of George A. Lopez, chair of the board of directors for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists-based at the University of Chicago-after announcing on February 27 that the minute hand of the "Doomsday Clock" would be moved forward to seven minutes before midnight.

IMAGE:  Leon Lederman, the Frank L. Sulzberger professor emeritus in physics and the College, advances the minute hand on the "Doomsday Clcok."

The clock is not a working timepiece, rather a mock-up of a clock face representing the urgency of the global nuclear situation. The closer the clock is to midnight, the more immediate the threat of nuclear catastrophe.

Constructed in 1947 and set at seven minutes to midnight, it has been reset 17 times since, each shift reflecting a change in the world's political and military climate. The closest it has come to midnight was two minutes in 1953, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed the first hydrogen bombs. The safest setting was 17 minutes in 1991 when the same two nations signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Since 1991 the clock has moved forward three times-to 14 minutes, then nine minutes, and now seven. The latest change, according to Lopez, was influenced by several geopolitical factors, including the U.S. decision to walk away from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in June and its lack of participation in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Although the events of September 11 played a small role in the decision to advance the minute hand, "the clock has never moved in response to a singular event," said Lopez, "no matter how terrible." A chronicle of the clock's changes from 1947 to the present can be seen at the Bulletin's Web site, www.thebulletin.org.
-C.S.


 


  APRIL 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 4


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Auteur! Auteur!
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A Run for Our Money
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My Life as a Mind
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Thinking Inside the Box
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