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.

Making Connections to Preserve the Digital Past

For the past few years, the Iowa State University Library has subscribed to the Archive-It service for the long-term preservation of university web content.  Archive-It is a web site preservation program that allows institutions to select and permanently capture html-based web pages. Created by Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive, the goal of Archive-It is to save born-digital information on web sites and to serve as a web archiving tool.

In 2008, Archive-It introduced a special program designed for K-12 students to preserve digital information.  The goal of the K-12 Web Archiving Program was to educate students about not only what web sites should be saved for future research, but how would you choose what to preserve?  Currently in its second year, 15 schools in 13 states participate in this competitive program which allows students to learn how to make these decisions and “help them to develop an awareness of how the Web content they choose will become primary sources for future historians studying our lives,” according to the program’s web site.

Special Collections and University Archives Head Tanya Zanish-Belcher saw the call, and forwarded the request on to Sarah Passonneau, Assistant to the ISU Library Dean and recommended that Ames Middle and High Schools consider applying.  Sarah worked with Dr. Lance Wilhelm (Technology Director at the Ames Community School District), to complete the application, and Ames was one of nine community schools selected for the project.

As Jayne Staniforth, an Extended Learning Program teacher at Ames Middle School, said  “My students view internet documents differently now. They are more aware of the continually changing nature of the Internet and the impact that has on history. They felt empowered to speak for their generation about what is important to them, what they value and how they communicate.”  She also noted the process showed that “their opinion mattered to a larger audience not just their peers.”   Middle school student Laura Graveline felt  “she realizes how important the internet is to our generation.”  Fellow student Moriah Cooper exclaimed, “It feels like what you were doing actually counted for something, because future generations will be able to see what was important to us.  It’s a record.”

Ames High School collections:

Ames Middle School collections:

For more information about Archive-It, see the vendor’s FAQ and additional information at To see ISU’s preserved web sites, please go to: