The Manhattan Project

J. Robert Oppenheimer

University of California-Berkeley

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.

S-50 Plant

With both the K-25 and Y-12 plants suffering setbacks in the spring of 1944, Oppenheimer urged Groves to approve the construction of a thermal diffusion plant. The U.S. Navy had researched this method for three years and was already building a pilot plant of 100 columns in Philadelphia.  After reviewing Oppenheimer’s suggestions, Groves decided in late June 1944 to approve construction for what would become the S-50 Thermal Diffusion Plant. 

Los Alamos, NM

Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the site of Project Y, or the top-secret atomic weapons laboratory directed by J. Robert Oppenheimer. The site was so secret that one mailbox, PO Box 1663, served as the mailing address for the entire town. The mountains allowed the scientists ample opportunity to relax, by skiing, swimming, and hiking. But they spent most of their time in laboratories, overcoming challenge after challenge to develop the Littly Boy (gun-type) and Fat Man (implosion) atomic bombs.

Trinity Site

The birth of nuclear weapons occurred on July 16, 1945 at the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico, 230 miles south of Los Alamos. Gadget (as the bomb was known) was an implosion plutonium bomb, like the one used at Nagasaki, and detonated with 20 kilotons of force, slightly more than the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Originally the test was to occur at 4 a.m., but it was delayed to 5:30 after an early morning thunderstorm. At 5:29:45, Gadget exploded and the Atomic Age began.


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