MAUD Committee

Keller Chryst
May 13, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: An image of Cavendish Laboratory where Chadwick worked. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Propelled by the Frisch-Peieris memorandum in 1940, the MAUD Committee took shape in the goal of determining if the possibility of a nuclear weapon was achievable. Led by a number of nuclear physicists, the committee ultimately put out two reports that outlined the use of uranium as a source of power as well as a bomb.


The committee took shape when the neutron was discovered in 1932 by James Chadwick at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge (see Fig. 1). This set off an avalanche, as Gowing refers to it, of subsequent events pertaining to the creation of an atomic bomb. [1] By 1941, the committee did, in fact, prove that the atomic bomb was possible, and showed the type of steps needed to be taken in order to create such a weapon. The final report was originally planned to be released as one collective unit but it was decided to split it up, rewritten for clarity, and made shorter. Chadwick was one of the driving influencers on this decision. The first report pertained to the bomb itself, the other related to the power reactor. After reviews of the report, it was determined that the only the one going in depth about the bomb was worth to implement and go forward at that time in the war. This led to the creation of yet another organization called, the Directorate of Tube Alloys, a meaningless, but plausible sounding cover-name. [1]

Naming Confusion

The naming of the committee itself was actually a peculiar one. Until after the war no one was completely sure as to what the name officially comes from but Rudolf Peierls describes in his writing the following:

It reported that Bohr and his family were well, and ended "Inform Cockcroft and Maud Ray Kent". This wording seemed mysterious. If the recipients knew Maud Ray, why say "Kent"? If they did not (nobody did) this was hardly an adequate address. It was suggested that there might be a hidden message, perhaps an anagram. But there were too many possibilities. This was discussed at a time when it seemed useful to have an innocent-sounding cover name for the committee, and so the name Maud suggested itself. In spite of this, many people were convinced that MAUD stood for Military Applications of the Uranium Disintegration. [2]

After the war, it was finally cleared up explaining that, Maud Ray was a former governess of the Bohr family, and the telegram had been mangled in transmission; between "Ray" and "Kent" there had been a full address. This confusion is not all that surprising, especially for this kind of subject matter. The nature of the committee itself is ideally secretive so it was probably a good thing that more was not known earlier.

© Keller Chryst. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Gowing, "James Chadwick and the Atomic Bomb," Notes Rec. Roy. Soc. 47, 79 (1993)

[2] R. Peierls, "Recollections of James Chadwick," . Notes Rec. Roy. Soc. 48, 135 (1994).