AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXX, No. 1, Spring 1998


Chain Reaction Exhibition Features Physics Holdings at the University of Chicago Library

by Richard L. Popp

Commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction, achieved at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1942 focused attention on holdings of the Library's Department of Special Collections related to the Manhattan Project and to the subsequent creation of the Enrico Fermi Institute and Argonne National Laboratory. Among the department's recent acquisitions are additions to the Enrico Fermi papers; papers of Herbert L. Anderson, who oversaw the construction of "CP-1" in 1942; papers of William B. Harrell, the business manager and vice-president of the University who handled government contracts for war research and the construction of Argonne National Laboratory; and records of the Office of the Vice President for Special Projects, which include government contracts for research and training projects in physics and related disciplines from World War II through the 1960s.

These collections have augmented the strong physical science holdings of the department. University archives include records of the Physics Department (1937-1947) and Physical Sciences Division (1946-1949), and papers of faculty members including Samuel K. Allison, Edward Anders, S. Chandrasekhar, Enrico Fermi, James Franck, Henry Gordon Gale, Robert S. Mulliken, Marcel Schein, and John A. Simpson. The Department of Special Collections also holds papers of Michael Polanyi and Eugene Rabinowitch; letters and manuscripts of Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Isaac Newton in the Joseph Halle Schaffner Collection of Scientific Manuscripts; and records of organizations formed after World War II by nuclear physicists including the Atomic Scientists of Chicago, the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, and groups established at research sites in Cambridge, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Pasadena, and Washington, DC.

In conjunction with the chain reaction anniversary, the Department of Special Collections sponsored an exhibit entitled, "The Chain Reaction: December 2, 1942 and After." The exhibit featured items from the department's collections related to the chain reaction experiment and to the efforts of physicists to educate the public about the dangers and potential uses of nuclear energy. Among the items displayed were Enrico Fermi's naturalization certificate; Herbert L. Anderson's measurements of radiation from the nuclear pile, up to December 1, 1942; notes taken by Eugene Rabinowitch at a meeting of Metallurgical Laboratory staff on August 7, 1945, to discuss actions after the bombing of Hiroshima; and documents concerning the early lobbying activities of the Atomic Scientists of Chicago and Federation of American Scientists.

For further information contact the Department of Special Collections, University of Chicago Library, 1100 East 57th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637; phone 312-702-8705.

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