Historic Manhattan Project Sites at Los Alamos


Ellen McGehee: We’re at V-Site, and this is
where the components for the Trinity Device were assembled, this was before the device,
which was also called The Gadget, was sent down to Trinity, Trinity Site in Southern
New Mexico. And other work was done here at V-Site before then to support the development
of the Fat Man weapon, so some early design work was also conducted here at V-Site. But
The Gadget, or Trinity Device, which was assembled here in this building is very significant
because it was the first nuclear explosion in the world, it was detonated at Trinity
Site on July 16, 1945. In order to develop the Little Boy weapon they needed to test
the ballistics of the gun that was actually inside the weapon, and that is why this is
called Gun Site. These are poured concrete, very thick-walled bunkered structures that
are partially covered by earth. The reason for this is when they were conducting the
gun tests up above it was unsafe to be up there, everybody involved in the project had
to be down in here in these bunkers. There was also a periscope tower connected to this
building so that the scientists inside could actually view the tests remotely. We call
this building the Slotin Building and that’s because on May 21st 1946, so after the end
of World War Two but still part of the Manhattan Project era here at Los Alamos, Louis Slotin
was conducting an experiment here in this building, it was an experiment called “tickling
the dragon’s tail.” It involved a sub-critical mass of plutonium, and he basically had this
sphere of plutonium that was being reflected by hemispheres of beryllium, so they were
being kept apart by a screwdriver type implement and that allowed them to be kept apart safely,
but the screwdriver slipped and when the hemispheres joined up there was basically a burst of radiation
and Louis Slotin died nine days later. Emilio Segré’s chemistry group identified that the
plutonium coming from Hanford could not be used in the gun-assembled method … an entirely
new design of nuclear weapon had to be developed, and that was eventually the implosion weapon
which was the Fat Man weapon, but it was here at Pajarito Site where that really important
chemistry research was conducted by Emilio Segré and his group. Now, there were two
cabins, the Pond Cabin was primarily used by Segré’s group as an office, a library,
a place to spend the night when they had to stay down here. The Forester’s Cabin was actually
where the chemistry experiments were set up.

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