2015 New Year

Now that Congress has passed the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act, we are gearing up to help with interpretation of this history. Historian Alex Wellerstein has a great article on Preserving, and Interpreting, the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project was featured in an innovative look at the history of World War II: 42 Maps That Explains World War II. Several of the maps were prepared by General Douglas MacArthur and his staff, pictured arriving in Japan after the end of the war with his signature pipe.
In This Issue
Alexander Guest House in Oak Ridge

This May, visitors will once again be welcome at the Guest House in Oak Ridge. During the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, General
Leslie Groves and other notables stayed at the Guest House, renamed the Alexander Inn in 1950, when visiting the Clinton Engineer Works.


Thanks to a $500,000 grant provided as partial mitigation for the demolition of K-25 plant, the building has been saved from demolition. Rick Dover, founder and general manager of the Family Pride Corporation, is investing $9.9 million to restore the building for use as an assisted living and retirement center with 64 apartments. Rick Dover likes to preserve historic properties "because they tell us who we are and where we are going as a community."


Ray Smith in front of the Guest House with its fresh coat of paint

The lobby of the Guest House will feature memorabilia of the Manhattan Project and exhibits on the famous scientists and government officials who stayed there. On Wednesday, January 21, Y-12 Plant historian Ray Smith gave Cindy Kelly a tour of the building which still has some of its original floors, fireplace, wood pillars and door frames in the lobby. The grand opening should be in May 2015.


Reincarnation of the K-25 Plant

On January 22, 2015, the Department of Energy-Oak Ridge hosted a meeting to review progress on implementing the commitments made in the 2012 Memorandum of Agreement to mitigate the demolition of the entire K-25 plant. Mayor Warren Gooch and City Manager Mark of Oak Ridge, Patrick McIntyre and Claudette Stager of the Tennessee Historical Commission, and some 50 others attended.


Gregor Smee, Smee + Busby Architects, and Gerald Hilferty, Hilferty & Associates, reported on their efforts to design and provide interpretive exhibits for the History Center, Equipment Building and Viewing Tower. Greg Smee began by saying that "it is sad that nothing of the K-25 plant is preserved." He was inspired to "bring the plant back of life" in his architectural scheme that presents the entire cross-section of one of the 54 original buildings. On the west end, the structure is a large steel frame with intermittent columns, "like shimmering bones, bare, without sinew." The building façade seems to be "re-integrating back to its original state" as it moves eastward with more columns, siding and details. Finally, at the eastern end is the open cell exhibit and viewing tower. 


The tower's observation deck is inspired by the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. From here, one can see north to the half-mile length of the original K-25 plant, south to the former Happy Valley community, east to the industrial park, or west into the cell floor, pipe gallery and operating floors next to the tower. A short and long loop for walking, bicycling or driving will take visitors around the original K-25 plant site past a dozen wayside exhibit panels.

The History Center will be located on the second story of the fire station nearby. The orientation theater will immerse visitors in World War II and give them a sense for the urgency and secrecy of the project. The exhibits will have many artifacts from K-25 and give visitors a sense for the ingenuity required to produce enough enriched uranium for the world's first atomic bombs.


The overall plan is quite exciting and could make the K-25 site a significant attraction for visitors to the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Now the challenge is to obtain the $12 million needed to complete the project. 


Los Alamos Historical Society Campaign Milestone

Heather McClenahan, Jason Lott, Cindy Kelly, and Seth Kirshenberg

Members of the Los Alamos Historical Society (LAHS) wore black shirts proclaiming "History is Here" to celebrate raising $3.5 million towards their goal of $7 million. On Tuesday, January 27, 2015, over one hundred people from the community attended the "Now it Can Be Told" celebration in Fuller Lodge.


Superintendent Jason Lott of the Bandelier National Monument said that there could be a great influx of visitors to Los Alamos who are interested in learning about the Manhattan Project and visiting the Valles Caldera national park nearby.  Lott observed that, "The arrowhead (National Park symbol) creates instant recognition....The Park Service looks forward to partnering with the Los Alamos Historical Society to give these visitors a great experience."


Denny Erickson and Sharon Stover served as co-chairs of the fund-raising effort and recognized the lead gifts from Clay and Dorothy Perkins, the Delle Foundation (created by George and Satch Cowan) and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Seth Kirshenberg, whose firm Kutac Rock LLP sponsored the event, appropriately wore a porkpie hat as master of ceremonies.


Cindy Kelly spoke of the Atomic Heritage Foundation's long partnership with the Los Alamos Historical Society and the great opportunities ahead with the new Manhattan Project Park. The program ended with a champagne toast to all of the donors who have made history by providing for the future of the Los Alamos Historical Society! For more, read Carol Clark's piece here.

Saving Seaborg's Plutonium 


The plutonium speck. Image courtesy Eric Norman/U.C. Berkeley

In 2012, Berkeley health physicist Phil Broughton stopped by the office of the Atomic Heritage Foundation and relayed some exciting news: he had discovered a tiny plutonium sample at Berkeley, which he believed to be one of Seaborg's first samples. In 1942, Chicago chemists Burris Cunningham and Lewis Werner purified and extracted plutonium from uranium salts. The sample at 2.77 micrograms was just large enough for them to see - the first time plutonium had ever been seen.


When Broughton found it, the plutonium sample was sitting in a clear plastic box labeled "First sample of Pu weighed. 2.7 µg" in the Hazardous Materials Facility. "This is the equivalent to the original moon rock," he recalled. Despite a rigorous search, however, he was unable to find any other documentation showing the plutonium's provenance - required for any museum to accept the plutonium sample as the first visible speck produced. In July 2014, Broughton asked Berkeley's Department of Nuclear Engineering to help identify the metal. The team's results indicate that the plutonium Broughton found was likely developed during the Manhattan Project by Cunningham and Werner.


Broughton and the nuclear engineering team are hopeful that the plutonium will be put on display at Berkeley, possibly in Seaborg's historic lab. In the meantime, we are grateful that Broughton noticed the clear box and decided to pursue the plutonium's story to its end!


For more on this important find, read this Scientific American article, Manhattan Project Plutonium, Lost to Obscurity, Recovered by Scientists.


Manhattan Project Spotlight: 
Niels Bohr Announces the Discovery of Fission


Niels Bohr

On January 26, 1939, during the Fifth Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics at the George Washington University, Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr publicly announced the splitting of the uranium atom. The resulting "fission," with its release of two hundred million electron volts of energy, heralded the beginning of the atomic age.


The conference, which was organized by George Washington University Professors George Gamow and Edward Teller and jointly sponsored by the Carnegie Institute for Science and GWU, was supposed to be centered on the subject of low-temperature physics and superconductivity, but the importance of such a revolutionary event could not be ignored.


The announcement came just weeks after Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, two of Bohr's colleagues at Copenhagen, reported that they had produced the element barium after bombarding uranium with neutrons. Physicist Lise Meitner, who had fled Germany to Sweden, and her nephew, Otto Frisch, correctly interpreted the results as evidence of nuclear fission. Frisch confirmed this experimentally on January 13, 1939.

Lise Meitner


John Wheeler, a theoretical physicist at Princeton who completed a fellowship with Bohr in Copenhagen, remembers Bohr's excitement when he arrived in the United States on January 16. "Frisch and Meitner had not wanted to tell Bohr until he got on the boat because they knew that he would be unable to keep the secret," recalled Wheeler in a 1965 interview. "All this pent-up thought of his from the trip on the boat was discharged on me when I was there at the pier to meet him in New York."


A few days later, Bohr arrived in Washington, D.C. to deliver the news to his colleagues. But the discussion that followed his announcement was remarkably subdued. After a few minutes of general comments, Teller recalled his neighbor whispering in his ear, "Perhaps we should not discuss this." It did not take long before physicists realized that the fission of uranium could be used to create a nuclear chain reaction and weapons of mass destruction.


Historic Westinghouse Atom Smasher Fate Unclear


The smasher on the ground. Photo courtesy of TribLive
In 1937, Westinghouse Company built an atom smasher on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA. The atom smasher stood 65 feet or five stories high. It was the first industrial particle accelerator ever built. According to Physics Central, "Its unusual bulb shape is because it is an old Van de Graaff style electrostatic accelerator. The steel dome would build up a huge electrical charge, repelling positively charged ions down a beam tube onto an experiment or detector."


In 2011, the atom smasher and the site was purchased by DC developer Gary Silversmith. Originally there had been some hope that the site would be turned into a science education center, but that plan proved too expensive. Silversmith also reached out to several museums and historical societies, including the Smithsonian Institution, but at 90 tons, the smasher is too large to move.

The Westinghouse atom smasher upright, before its base was demolished

On January 24, passerbys were shocked to find that the bulb had been knocked down from its brick base and was lying on its side. Silversmith explained that the brick base was too damaged to restore and so they had to demolish it, but pledged, "We are going to establish a new concrete base for it, and keep it at the site, and have the bulb repainted, including the 'W' for Westinghouse." Some preservationists expressed concern that the smasher may have sustained damage when it fell on its side. We are hopeful that the smasher will be restored to its full glory, and become a new site for atomic tourists to visit.


For more about the Westinghouse atom smasher, see Building down, but developer says Westinghouse atom smasher preserved and Pittsburgh's old Westinghouse atom smasher torn down. Here are some photographs of the atom smasher before the demolition began.

Movies Honor Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

Two movies came out in 2014 highlighting the history of science and technology, "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything." "The Imitation Game" focuses on the role of genius mathematician Alan Turing in breaking the Enigma machine, which Nazi Germany used to encipher and decipher secret messages. Considered unbreakable, Turing and his team at Bletchley Park designed an early computer to break the code and decipher the Nazis' secret messages each day. The intelligence they gathered is considered to have helped shorten the war by two or more years.


The movie does a terrific job of highlighting the intense pressure the team was under to break Enigma. Being able to read Germany's codes would save the lives of Allied soldiers and civilians. 


The film packs an emotional punch by including real historical footage, including of Nazi bombings of London. "The Imitation Game" gives proper credit to the mathematicians, scientists, and engineers whose work was vital to the Allies' victory.  


Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking

"The Theory of Everything" tells the story of Stephen and Jane Hawking. When Stephen was diagnosed with ALS, the prognosis was that he had only 2 years to live. Fortunately, Stephen could continue his work despite his physical (but not mental) deterioration. The story of their life together is movingly told, but the most riveting scenes involve Stephen's presentation of his black hole theory and his visit to US after having attained rock star status with "A Brief History of Time." 


Two actors from WGN's "Manhattan" television show on the Manhattan Project play similar roles in "The Theory of Everything." Harry Lloyd plays a physicist in both, Adam Godley a doctor in both.


With the "Manhattan" television show, "The Imitation Game," and "The Theory of Everything," it has been a great year featuring the importance of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. We hope this trend continues! 

Recent Additions to "Voices of the Manhattan Project"

Gilbert P. Church was a civil engineer and Project Manager at the Hanford site during the Manhattan Project. In 1943, the DuPont Company selected Church to lead their Manhattan Project efforts. Church, along with Col. Franklin T. Matthias and A.E.S. Hall, surveyed sites in Washington, Oregon, California, and California before choosing Hanford as the site for the world's first full-scale nuclear production reactor. In this interview, Church describes the challenges faced throughout the project, such as creating a community for up to 45,000 construction employees, training and providing for these individuals, and completing one of the largest construction projects of the era under incredibly tight time constraints.

Harold Fidler was an Army major and a civil engineer for the Corps of Engineers. Fidler began working at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley with Ernest O. Lawrence in the early stages of the Manhattan Project. Fidler was responsible for sending weekly reports on the progress that scientists were making to Colonel James C. Marshall, who oversaw the Manhattan Project during its initial stages. Fidler also ensured that the laboratory received the materials that it needed. In his interview, he discusses what it was like to work under Lawrence, along with the secrecy surrounding the cyclotron and General Groves' frequent visits.


Daniel D. Friel was a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company who joined the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago in 1943. Friel was assigned to design the optics for remote operations in Hanford's T-Plant, a state-of-the-art chemical separations facility. Under Charles M. Cooper and George Monk, Friel invented equipment based on preexisting military technology to see behind walls at the separation plant and the B Reactor. Friel discusses the use of television and periscopes, describing how challenging it was to create a completely new technology without any precedent.




Eleanor Irvine Davisson was Ernest O. Lawrence's secretary at the University of California Berkeley. In her interview, she discusses her impressions of Dr. Lawrence beginning with the Manhattan Project up until his death in 1958. Irvine describes the professor as an extremely personable individual whose impatience and work ethic fueled his nonstop research. She mentions that he was both a family man and a dedicated scientist.


Raemer Schreiber worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project and after the war developing the hydrogen bomb and the Rover nuclear rocket program. In 1945, Schreiber was transferred to the Gadget Division and was a member of the pit assembly team for the Trinity Test, watching the explosion from base camp. He flew to Tinian Island with two plutonium hemispheres and helped assemble the Fat Man bomb used on Nagasaki. He witnessed the 1946 radiation accident that killed Louis Slotin, but was allowed to leave Los Alamos after being examined to go to Eniwetok for the Bikini test. He recalls the challenges that went into designing the hydrogen bomb, as well as the personalities of various scientists including Edward Teller and Norris Bradbury.


Sir Hugh Taylor was a British-born chemist and the first man to create pure, radioactive heavy water. He worked as a consultant for the Kellex Corporation during the Manhattan Project while maintaining his duties as a professor at Princeton University. After working on the heavy water problem in Trail, British Columbia, Taylor helped design the barrier to be used for uranium separation at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview with author Stephane Groueff, Sir Hugh discusses his early work with heavy water, the difficulties in the Norris-Adler barrier for uranium separation, and the extensive industrial effort required to complete the million square foot barrier.