Posted by: zanishbelcher | November 9, 2011

Ames Laboratory Oral History Project

Director, Associate Director and Section Chiefs in 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.

The Ames Laboratory began as a chemical research and development program at Iowa State College (University) to assist the World War II Manhattan Project. The program developed an entirely new technology for the conversion of uranium ore to high-purity uranium metal and then used that technology to produce more than 2 million pounds by the end of the war. In 1947, the United States Atomic Energy Commission officially established the Ames Laboratory as a National Laboratory. It is currently a United States Department of Energy research facility operated by Iowa State University. The Laboratory and University share facilities, functions, graduate students, and faculty/principle investigators. After World War II, the Ames Laboratory specialized in rare metals and methods of achieving chemical transformation without the production of toxic waste. The Laboratory has expanded its scope beyond materials research, including research in photosynthesis, hazardous waste analysis, computer programming, quasicrystals, and nontraditional materials.

Fifteen interviews have been completed by independent researcher Sue Futrell and are being transcribed. The finding aid for the Ames Lab Oral History Collection is available online.  Audio portions of the interviews are also available online.

“Little Ankeny” (pictured above) was named in contrast with the large-scale ordnance work located in Ankeny during World War II.  Little Ankeny was a temporary building left over from World War I and housed uranium production on the Iowa State campus from January 1943 until the end of the war. During that time, two million pounds (one thousand tons) of pure uranium metal was made there. Industry came here to learn how to produce the metal, and then the process was turned over to industry. The process was developed and patented by Dr. Frank Spedding and Dr. Harley Wilhelm.  Little Ankeny was located east of the Food Science Building, and a plaque now marks its location.

Dr. Harley Wilhelm developed an efficient way to produce uranium metal for the Manhattan project and was a co-founder of the Ames Lab. The Ames Lab Oral History Collection includes interviews of his family.


  1. […] What’s also very interesting about this book is that a part of the research for the Manhattan Project happened just up the road at the Ames Lab. You can read more about that here: […]

  2. […] Spedding. 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 […]

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