Alvin M. Weinberg has played a key role in scientific developments of the 20th century. In 1941 he joined the University of Chicago group that developed the first chain reactor. As a member of this team, he worked on the reactor that produced the plutonium that would ultimately be used for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. He served as director of ORAU's Institute for Energy Analysis (IEA), which pioneered investigations of the greenhouse effect, alternate energy sources, and maximizing energy sources at minimum cost to the economy and the environment. Throughout his career, Weinberg has been a leading figure in the development of nuclear energy. Among his accomplishments was the proposal to use pressurized water for nuclear submarine propulsion. Weinberg has been recognized many times, winning the Atoms for Peace Award, the Harvey Prize, the Heinrich Award, and the Fermi Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and a Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.
In addition to his writings concerning scientific and administrative works, he is also a prolific writer on the interaction between modern technology and society. He has coined many phrases that have become part of our everyday language; "big science," "technological fix," and "faustian bargain" are just a few examples.
Reflections on Big Science also includes many of Weinberg's earlier essays. These essays treat a number of acute or chronic problems and many prescribe remedies. Included are considerations of the population expansion and the concomitant expansion of energy and information, the new social structures built by the new technology, the effects of the organization and financing of Big Science on the nature of scientific inquiry, the potential contribution of the federal laboratories to science education, and the role of the scientist (which is distinct from, and as vital as, the role of the documentalist).