The Manhattan Project

Oak Ridge

Mary Lowe Michel's Interview

Michel: My name was Mary Lowe, L-O-W-E, and I married John Michel, M-I-C-H-E-L.

Kelly: Great. Is it possible that you can look toward me? So tell me, how and when did you come to Oak Ridge?

Michel: I came in November of 1944.

Kelly: And what had—where had you come from? What brought you here?

Robert Ellingson's Interview

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. 

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. 

Y-12 Plant

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.

K-25 Plant

The K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge used the gaseous diffusion process to enrich uranium.

Gaseous Diffusion Process

The K-25 plant was an enormously ambitious and risky undertaking. A mile-long, U-shaped building, the K-25 plant was the world’s largest roofed building at the time. British scientists working on the “tube alloy,” code for the atomic bomb project, first advocated the gaseous diffusion method in March 1941.  Because of the Nazi bombing of England, any production plants had to be located elsewhere.

Oak Ridge, TN

In 1942, General Leslie Groves approved Oak Ridge, Tennessee, as the site for the pilot plutonium plant and the uranium enrichment plant. Manhattan Project engineers had to quickly build a town to accommodate 30,000 workers--as well as build the enormously complex plants.

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