Los Alamos National Laboratory has designated the entire month of April for its 80th birthday bash. The public is invited to take part in the celebration by attending a talk by historian Madeline Whitacre from the Lab’s National Security Research Center, where she’ll discuss the facts, photos and stories from the Lab’s origins, on April 17, 5:30 – 7 p.m. at ProjectY in Los Alamos. See more information here.
Video gives a peek at rare footage
Additionally, you can see rare footage of the Laboratory’s history in this video, where Senior Historian Alan Carr narrates the story of the Lab from temporary military outpost during World War II to the multidisciplinary institution it is today — all in about six minutes.
When’s the Lab’s official birthday?
NSRC historians admit there are many ways to think about the Lab’s creation — known as Project Y during the Manhattan Project — and its birthdate. “The Lab doesn’t have a truly official birthday, at least in my opinion,” Carr said.
In 1942, Gen. Leslie Groves appointed physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the wartime laboratory. What happened that solidified its existence?
“Perhaps conception was in the fall of 1942,” said Carr, “when creating a weapons lab was approved by the Manhattan Project. Up until then, the Chicago Met Lab [the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago] essentially served that purpose. It’s my understanding not all wanted a second design lab, but that Oppenheimer pushed for it and Gen. Groves liked Oppenheimer. We have some interesting planning documents from the fall of 1942: then, the physicists only thought it would take 130 people (total!) to get the work at Los Alamos done!
“That aside, I’ve always considered April 1943 to be the Lab’s intellectual and administrative ‘birthday.’ I think that’s how my predecessors have generally interpreted the history as well. Yes, construction started before then. Yes, there were meetings before then. Yes, there was technical work before then.
“But an important series of introductory scientific lectures was held during the first two weeks of April: the lectures by Robert Serber were summarized in a report, ‘The Los Alamos Primer,’ which became the Lab’s first report: LA-1. And on April 20, the University of California signed the contract to operate the Laboratory (retroactive to the first of the year).
“That’s why I like April: you have two major, unnebulous official things that happened that month,” Carr said.