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November 2015
20Los Alamos scientists keep their distance from a 1,000 ci radiation source used in the RaLa experiments.
Reading about the various radiation hazards in the Manhattan Project's history can be spine-tingling, even with a measured view of the dangers.
13Haigerloch nuclear reactor replica
At what point did the Manhattan Project scientists and administrators realize they weren't in a race with Nazi Germany after all?
 6A young J. Robert Oppenheimer. Source: Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.
The popular version of Oppenheimer at Los Alamos is one of infinite competence, confidence, and charm. The reality is far more complex.
October 2015
30William Laurence (left) and J. Robert Oppenheimer at the Trinity Site in September 1945, as part of a “press safari” to the ruins of the first atomic test. I find the contrasts in their physiognomical contrast fascinating. Source: Google LIFE images.
One of the most unusual, curious, and controversial members of the Manhattan Project was their in-house newspaperman from the New York Times.
23Szilard’s folder from the Manhattan Engineer District files.
How far would Manhattan Project security go to deal with a problematic genius?
13Posing with the Gadget, in the middle of a desert.
Some notes on doing historical consulting for the period-piece, neo-noir drama, "Manhattan."
 9Target map of Niigata, from General Groves' files, summer of 1945.
Niigata was one of the possible targets for atomic attack in 1945. Why was it spared? And why don't we ever talk about it?
September 2015
 8Richard G. Hewlett, posing in 1958 with the Bush-Conant document collection.
News and Notes
Richard Hewlett, the first official historian of the Atomic Energy Commission, has died at the age of 92.
 4The intense Ernest Lawrence. Credit: Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.
Did "Big Science" pioneer Ernest Lawrence believe that Japan should have been warned before Hiroshima?
August 2015
21Detail from a damage map of Nagasaki, produced by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, 1946. I have the original of this in my possession. I find this particular piece of the map quite valuable to examine up close — one gets a sense of the nature of the area around "Ground Zero" very acutely when examining it. There were war plants to the north and south of the detonation point, but mostly the labeled structures are explicitly, painfully civilian (schools, hospitals, prisons). Click to enlarge.
Seven decades later, how do we talk about the atomic bombs?
 7New Yorker - Nagasaki - The Last Bomb
 3Unusual photograph of the late cloud of Hiroshima, as seen from the air. This was probably taken by aircraft that arrived several hours after the bombing to do damage reconnaissance; they reported the target was obscured by huge amounts of smoke. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, via
Considering a few of the options that were on the table in 1945.
July 2015
17The late stages of the Trinity cloud as viewed from many miles distant, as it becomes a shifting, twisting column of radioactive dust. Obtained from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
What does the Trinity test signify, in the broad sweep of human history?
June 2015
26A Soviet matchbox with a heroic Laika, the first dog in space. Caption: "First satellite passenger — the dog, Laika." Want it on a shirt, or a really wonderful mug?
The Soviet space dogs were more than just adorable mutts — but they were those, too.
12The arming plugs of the Little Boy bomb.
What remains of the Manhattan Project? A lot of documents. Some people. A few places. And a handful of artifacts.
May 2015
29Several of the still-living Manhattan Project veterans/
Historians sometimes need a reminder that places and people, not just documents, make up the past.
11Bohr and General Groves' personal technical advisor, Richard Tolman, attending the opening of the Bicentennial Conference on "The Future of Nuclear Science," circa 1947. Source: Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Niels Bohr Library, American Institute of Physics.
Along with almost getting hit by a car, he made important contributions to the atomic bomb's design.
April 2015
10The progress of a successful reaction using an imploded reflector. The little yellow parts are a "splitting atom" animation which is disabled by default (because it decreases performance). Note that I am aware that my simulation neglects any effects caused by fission products! They would just be too much of a degradation to performance.
The problem with thinking about the "critical mass" as a fixed quantity, and a new visualization to aid in thinking about it in a better way.
March 2015
27Ken Ford by Mark Makela for the New York Times.
News and Notes | Redactions
The US government has once again created a headache for itself in trying to censor information about the hydrogen bomb.
 6Trinity test fireballs, to scale.
In 1945, some scientists thought we should "demonstrate" the bomb to Japan before dropping it on a city. Others disagreed. Who was right?
February 2015
13Excerpt from a guide produced by the Oak Ridge Safety program.
The details of the two dozen Manhattan Project deaths at Los Alamos reveal much about the work of building the bomb, and the people who did it.
January 2015
30At left, the floorplan of the planned Enola Gay exhibition; at right, the actual exhibition that aired: the retreat of the political into the refuge of the technical. From Richard H. Krohn, "History and the Culture Wars: The Case of the Smithsonian Institute's Enola Gay Exhibition," Journal of American History 82, no. 3 (1995), 1036-1063.
Why creating a "Manhattan Project National Park" is an important and necessary step to preserve the past.
 9Oppenheimer photo courtesy of the of the Emilio Segrè Visual Archive; photo of the hearing transcript by Alex Wellerstein.
In October 2014, the lost Oppenheimer security hearing transcripts were released. This is the story behind the story.
 7The Sunday Times (UK) version of the "bunker" story.
Was a "Nazi nuclear bunker" recently discovered? Almost certainly not — but that hasn't stopped the story from being passed around.
 2Espionage Act secrecy stamp (photograph by Alex Wellerstein)
The year in nuclear historical scholarship.
December 2014
15Stimpy button
Is there a big red button that can launch nuclear war? No — but thinking about why there isn't is a nice way into the complexities of command and control issues.
 1Licorne nuclear test
There are thousands of photographs of mushroom clouds — so why do we always see the same ones?
November 2014
14Unmaking the Bomb model
Experiments in representing the atomic bomb and the substances that fuel it.
10Louis Slotin and Herb Lehr at the assembly of the Trinity "Gadget." Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory Archives, photo TR-229.
The Trinity and Fat Man atomic bombs were powered primarily by plutonium — but not exclusively.
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