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"...a market economy is essentially a genetic algorithm for solving resource allocation problems..."
- Charles Stross

Proton Pistol (Proton Beam)  
  A device that unleashed a 'protonic storm' of energy.  

In this story, the two survivors of an expedition to a mysterious fragment of a world fight an invisibly small enemy. Better safe then sorry...

Nothing could appear more harmless than those eddying [dust] motes; yet at sight of them both Rolf and Kerny were gripped by a vague, cold suspicion that among those specks might drift the instruments of sudden, ghastly extinction...

The two men, possessed of the same thought... acted in an identical manner. Their proton beams flared out, lashing the subtle particles into violent motion, and reducing them to fragments too fine to be visible, even if magnified a thousand diameters. The entire atmosphere within the war turret was submitted to the sterilizing action of the beams. Any living thing in the paths of the protonic storms from the pistols, must surely have been destroyed.

From A Menace in Miniature, by Raymond Z. Gallun.
Published by Astounding Stories in 1937
Additional resources -

Here's a bit more detail, in pulp classic style:

He yanked a proton pistol fom the belt around his bulky attire, and sent a blue cone of flame belching from its maw.

By the time Gallun wrote this in 1937, research into cosmic rays (the largest single constituent of which are protons) was just starting. By the turn of the century, physicists were puzzled by radiation in the environment, which seemed to be higher than would be expected from terrestrial sources.

To settle the debate, a daring German scientist, Victor Hess, ascended to more than 17,000 feet in a balloon (without oxygen!) in 1912. His gold leaf electroscope showed that the higher he got, the more the radiation level increased. Scientists became convinced that the radiation did indeed come from outer space and coined the phrase "cosmic radiation" to describe it.

By 1929, Russian physicist Dmitry Skobelzyn observed cosmic ray tracks in the newly invented cloud chambers. Further research demonstrated that cosmic "rays" were primarily composed of particles. Subatomic particles were finally seen in 1937, giving birth to the field of particle physics. Particle physicists used cosmic rays for their research until particle accelerators were developed in the 1950's.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from A Menace in Miniature
  More Ideas and Technology by Raymond Z. Gallun
  Tech news articles related to A Menace in Miniature
  Tech news articles related to works by Raymond Z. Gallun

Proton Pistol (Proton Beam)-related news articles:
  - 'Protonic Storms' Unleashed On DNA In Space

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