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You might know that New Mexico has an explosive history, but did you know about its involvement with the Manhattan Project?

Manhattan Project New Mexico Los Alamos

The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project was a research and development undertaking during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons. It was led by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom and Canada. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory that designed the actual bombs.

Los Alamos Laboratory: Project Y

On Oppenheimer’s recommendation, the search for a suitable site was narrowed to the vicinity of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Oppenheimer owned a ranch. In October 1942, Major John H. Dudley of the Manhattan Project was sent to survey the area, and he recommended a site near Jemez Springs, New Mexico. On 16 November, Oppenheimer, Groves, Dudley and others toured the site. Oppenheimer feared that the high cliffs surrounding the site would make his people feel claustrophobic, while the engineers were concerned with the possibility of flooding. The party then moved on to the vicinity of the Los Alamos Ranch School. Oppenheimer was impressed and expressed a strong preference for the site, citing its natural beauty and views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which, it was hoped, would inspire those who would work on the project. The engineers were concerned about the poor access road, and whether the water supply would be adequate, but otherwise felt that it was ideal.

Manhattan Project Developments

The development effort initially concentrated on a gun-type fission weapon using plutonium called Thin Man. In April 1944, the Los Alamos Laboratory determined that the rate of spontaneous fission in plutonium bred in a nuclear reactor was too great due to the presence of plutonium-240 and would cause a pre-detonation, a nuclear chain reaction before the core was fully assembled. Oppenheimer then reorganized the laboratory and orchestrated an all-out and ultimately successful effort on an alternative design proposed by John von Neumann, an implosion-type nuclear weapon, which was called Fat Man. A variant of the gun-type design known as Little Boy was developed using uranium-235. Famously, Little Boy was later used on Hiroshima and Fat Man on Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Post-War Scientific Exploration

Today, the laboratory is one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world. It conducts multidisciplinary research in fields such as national security, space exploration, nuclear fusion, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology, and supercomputing.

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