Important Manhattan Project research was conducted at Columbia University’s Pupin Hall (right) and Schermerhorn Hall. World-class physicists, including Nobel Prize winners Isidor I. Rabi and Enrico Fermi, joined Columbia’s research team to investigate the relatively new science of atomic particles. Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard first realized the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction in 1933, and against the backdrop of escalating hostilties in Europe, the race began to harness the enormous energy within the atom.
University Involvement in the Manhattan Project
Located at 3280 Broadway, the Nash Garage Building was originally an automobile dealership which was purchased by Columbia University and converted into a pilot plant to create the barrier material for Oak Ridge, TN’s K-25 gaseous diffusion plant.
Cindy Kelly: Give me your name and spell it.
Graydon Whitman: My name is Graydon Whitman, G-R-A-Y-D-O-N W-H-I-T-M-A-N.
Kelly: Great. Okay, can you tell us a little bit about your background: where you’re from and how you happened to become part of the Manhattan Project?
The "Rad Lab" was the short name for the Radiological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Its director was Nobel laureate Ernest O. Lawrence. He gained recognition for his 60" cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator first invented in the early 1930s. Known as “atom smashers,” cyclotrons accelerate atoms through a vaccuum and use electromagnets to induce collisions at speeds up to 25,000 miles per second.
Robert Ellingson: My name is Robert Ellingson, and it’s spelled E-L-L-I-N-G-S-O-N.
Kelly: Great. Now if you could just tell us where you’re from, and how you happened to end up in the Manhattan Project.
Ellingson: I am from a little town in Idaho, and Idaho is west of Wyoming if you’re not familiar with the geography of the country. Most people look quizzical and say, “Iowa, that’s north of here, isn’t it?” But this is the one in the West.
The Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge used the electromagnetic separation method, developed by Ernest Lawrence at University of California-Berkeley, to separate uranium isotopes.
One of the most important branches of the Manhattan Project was the Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab) in Chicago. Using the name "Metallurgical Laboratory" as cover at the University of Chicago, scientists from the east and west coasts were brought together to this central location to develop chain-reacting "piles" for plutonium production, to devise methods for extracting plutonium from the irradiated uranium, and to design a weapon. In all, four methods of plutonium separation were considered, with the bismuth phosphate process displaying the most promise.
Cynthia Kelly: So Don, why don’t you tell us your name and spell it?
Donald Ames: My name is Donald Ames, D-O-N-A-L-D A-M-E-S.
Kelly: Okay, and you should look at me instead of the camera. That’s better. Why don’t you tell us about where you were before the war and how you came to work on the Manhattan Project?
Ames: Okay, I was a farm boy. I went to the University of Wisconsin, where I earned my way through school. Of course, the tuition was only $32 a semester.