Posted by: bishopae | January 24, 2014

“Atomic Bomb Opens New Era in Scientific History”: Iowa State University’s contribution to the Manhattan Project

On August 6, 1945, Ames residents woke up to a surprise on the front page of their newspapers.

Front page of Ames Daily Tribune for August 7, 1945. Headline reads: Atomic Bomb Opens New Era in Scientific History

Front page of Ames Daily Tribune for August 7, 1945. Ames Laboratory Administrative Records, RS 17/1/3, Box 2, Folder 8, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Since early 1942, scientists at what was then Iowa State College (ISC) had played a vital role in the project that developed the nuclear bomb that had just been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. We now know that project as the Manhattan Project, yet even today the contribution of the Ames scientists is still not as widely know as other portions of the program. Just what top secret work was going in the lab in Ames?

Building known as "Little Ankeny," after the ordnance plant in Ankeny, Iowa, where work on the Manhattan Project was conducted.

Building known as “Little Ankeny,” after the ordnance plant in Ankeny, Iowa, where work on the Manhattan Project was conducted.

Frank H. Spedding, Professor of Chemistry at ISC, was appointed head of the Chemistry Division of the Manhattan Project’s Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago in early 1942. He appointed his Chemistry Department-colleague, Harley Wilhelm, as Associate Director of the project, hired a staff, and got to work, forming what was to become Ames Laboratory after the war.

The work of the Ames Project supported the goal of the scientists at the University of Chicago to initiate a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Such a reaction needed large quantities of pure uranium, which were not available at the time. Therefore, the Ames Project was tasked with two main challenges: (1) to develop a method for the production of pure uranium metal in large quantities, and (2) to develop a procedure for large-scale casting of the metal.

Director, Associate Director and Section Chiefs of the chemical research and development program at Iowa State College (University), which assisted in the World War II Manhattan Project. Left to Right: Harley Wilhelm, Adrian Daane, Amos Newton, Adolf Voigt, Wayne Keller, C. F. Gray, Frank Spedding, Robert Rundle, James Warf.

Director, Associate Director and Section Chiefs of the chemical research and development program at Iowa State College (University), which assisted in the World War II Manhattan Project. Left to Right: Harley Wilhelm, Adrian Daane, Amos Newton, Adolf Voigt, Wayne Keller, C. F. Gray, Frank Spedding, Robert Rundle, James Warf.

By early August 1942, the Ames Project scientists had found a way to successfully produce pure uranium in large amounts. In September, Dr. Wilhelm personally delivered an 11 pound ingot of pure uranium to the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. Later that week, the Ames Project had a $30,000 contract to produce 100 pounds of uranium per week for Chicago. Between 1942 and 1946, the Ames Project produced more than 2 million pounds of uranium!

Here at Special Collections, we have recently processed the Ames Laboratory Administrative Records and the Ames Laboratory Research Notebooks and Reports, both of which document the exciting work of the Ames scientists for the Manhattan Project.

The Administrative Records contain correspondence, weekly staff reports, research reports, personnel files, memorandums, programs, and newspaper clippings.  The Research Notebooks and Reports include the laboratory notebooks of the scientists working on the project (such as the one shown below), as well as their research reports and patents directly related to the Ames Project.

Pages from lab notebook of Joseph Feibig.

Pages from lab notebook of Joseph Feibig. Ames Laboratory Research Notebooks and Reports, RS 17/1/4, Box 3, Folder 6, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Interested in learning more? We have several Ames Laboratory collections here in Special Collections. Also, check out this excellent video on the history of the project produced by Ames Laboratory.


Responses

  1. […] link between Iowa State and the Manhattan Project is renown and often-discussed; my colleague Amy wrote about newly processed papers regarding the Ames Lab. The project also has a link to a barrier-breaking scientist and Iowa State graduate. Dr. Samuel […]

  2. […] Information on the Manhattan Project at Iowa State can be found in previous blog posts here and here. After that project, Svec was appointed to the Ames Laboratory/Institute for Atomic Research and […]


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