The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos is a 5 Compass attraction. It is, however, not easy to write about for 2 reasons. The exhibits require patience and extreme mental work to maximize their effectiveness, and the museum might be changing more than most in the future.
The Bradbury Science Museum has been around since 1963. There is no admission fee. Its mission is to explain the history of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and make its ongoing science and research understandable. I was told that today Los Alamos is the largest plutonium facility around and that it maintains our nuclear stockpile. The museum’s display areas are basically divided into 3 categories: Defense, Research, and History. There are reportedly 40 interactive exhibits and 2 films in them, but I didn’t see all of them. I’m certain my brain would have exploded if I had gone from one to the next without pause.
I began in Defense and really appreciated its explanations of Fat Man, Little Boy, plutonium, etc., but when I got to supercomputing there was a lot sailing right over my head. Research was even more of a mental challenge. I did, however, spend a lot of time learning from an exhibit called Understanding Radiation. I saw grandparents in the tech lab attempting to help the youngest generation relate to the information being provided. History was the most accessible and, therefore, busiest of the 3 because it put a human face on “The Town That Never Was”.
Los Alamos earned that nickname because anyone there between 1943 and 1945 was on a secret mission. Nuclear fission was known by 1939. The Fermi Laboratory near Chicago conducted research that showed a fission bomb was possible. Los Alamos, chosen site of the Manhattan Project, was charged with making a usable nuclear device. Before a community of scientists gathered to make this possible, there was only a boys’ school, some farms, and cattle where the town of Los Alamos is now. Scientists and their wives came to this totally new and secret locality to develop what would become the world’s first nuclear bomb. Very few of the scientists were women. Wives worked in the tech areas while their husbands’ efforts finally yielded a device that needed testing. A site was created 200 miles south at Alamogordo. In July, 1945, a plutonium implosion device known as “The Gadget” was assembled at Los Alamos and detonated successfully at Alamogordo. The next month a B-29 bomber dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima. Three days later Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki. Five days later Japan surrendered.
The human face of Los Alamos is found in the people profiles in History. But there’s science too. One of this museum’s newer displays, an exhibit about trinitite, is here. My favorite profile was Angelita Martinez’s. The niece of famed Native American potter Maria Martinez, Angelita was charged with teaching domestic skills to young wives. She was in charge of laundry too. At age 97 she still had vivid memories of seeing Edward Teller and Norris Bradbury square dancing, teaching her and other native women the two-step, and eating homemade pie. Edward Teller was a theoretical physicist who was dubbed the father of the hydrogen bomb. Norris Bradbury became the 2nd director of the Los Alamos labs when Robert Oppenheimer returned to civilian life.
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is coming soon. Using 3 facilities–Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos–the National Park Service will focus attention on “American science, technology, and industry during World War II,” according to the Los Alamos Visitor Guide. Bradbury will surely get involved in this.
PS. The 2nd picture shows a detonator’s interior and the 3rd is a model of The Gadget.