A wealth of information is available regarding the 1942 breakthrough and its impact. Follow the links below and to the left to see highlights—including articles, video, and archival imagery.
"A Witness to Atomic History"
In 1942, Ted Petry was a teenager recruited to a secret government project at the University of Chicago. Working with scientists including Enrico Fermi, he helped construct the 20-foot reactor known as Chicago Pile-1 and was present on Dec. 2, 1942 for the historic experiment. Now 93, Petry is the last known living person present that day under the west stands of Stagg Field.
“Race to the First Nuclear Chain Reaction"
Seventy-five years ago the brightest minds in the world came to the University of Chicago to embark on the greatest scientific experiment of the century: the first, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. A look back at the months leading up to the experiment recalls the intense pressures and pioneering science that produced the first nuclear chain reaction.
“How the Atomic Age Began at UChicago”
A short video featuring archival photography and the voice of Enrico Fermi provides some context for the moment in which the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was achieved.
“How the First Chain Reaction Changed Science”
An article, video, and slideshow focus on the legacy of the 1942 breakthrough on the UChicago campus.
The Nuclear Chain Reaction—Forty Years Later: Proceedings of a University of Chicago Commemorative Symposium, edited by Robert G. Sachs
Published in 1984, this booklet records the four sessions of the symposium and provides a historical background for the breakthrough.
“Enrico Fermi and the First Self-Sustaining Nuclear Chain Reaction”
This US Department of Energy page provides a short history and list of resources regarding the breakthrough.
“Nuclear Energy by Henry Moore”
This UChicago Arts page provides information on the artist and the sculpture, which was unveiled in 1967 as a memorial to the accomplishments of Fermi and his fellow physicists—25 years after the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was achieved.
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne is a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center where talented scientists and engineers work together to answer the biggest questions facing humanity, from how to obtain affordable clean energy to protecting ourselves and our environment. Ever since it was born out of the University of Chicago’s work on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, Argonne's goal has been to make an impact—from the atomic to the human to the global scale. Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC, for the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
- “Nuclear Pioneers Remember the Dawn of the Nuclear Age”
In a short video produced for the 70th anniversary of the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, two of the last surviving CP-1 pioneers, Harold Agnew and Warren Nyer, recall the historic day.
- “Argonne marks 70th anniversary of first man-made nuclear reaction”
This short article explains the significance of and context for the December 2 experiment that resulted in the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
- 70th Anniversary Symposium, “Dawn of the Nuclear Age”
In a video recording of Argonne’s 70th anniversary symposium, Harold Agnew and Len Koch discuss the early days of their careers and their roles in Argonne’s nuclear energy legacy with moderator Charles Till. Agnew was the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and present when the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was achieved, and Koch was one of Argonne’s earliest staff members and a designer of the first liquid metal–cooled fast reactor.
- “Chicago Pile (CP-1) 70th Anniversary”
On this page devoted to commemorating the 70th anniversary of CP-1, Argonne’s nuclear engineering division provides a list of resources and links about the breakthrough at the University of Chicago.
- “Atoms Forge a Scientific Revolution”
A short article covering Argonne’s nuclear energy legacy, starting with the first nuclear reactor.
- Argonne’s CP-1 Flickr Gallery
A collection of photos related to the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists at the University of Chicago who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work.” The Bulletin engages science leaders, policy makers, and the interested public on topics of nuclear weapons and disarmament, climate change, and emerging technologies through its award-winning journal, iconic Doomsday Clock, public access website, and regular set of convenings.
Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago Library
CP-1 photos, including Manhattan Project and Metallurgical Laboratory scientists and the pile, are available:
- Individual and group scientist photos
The Photographic Archive includes individual and group photos of Manhattan Project and Metallurgical Laboratory scientists.
- Buildings and grounds
University buildings and campus views, including old Stagg Field, are available.
- Request high-res copies of photos
For each Photographic Archive image, Special Collections has a high-res scan available.
- Rights and permissions
Copies of photos from Special Collections may be used by University offices and units or for nonprofit purposes. We request only a credit line: Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
The Museum of Science and Industry: Turn Back the Clock
One of the most provocative symbols of the 20th century—the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock—has inspired Turn Back the Clock, an exhibit illustrating why the Doomsday Clock matters as much today as it ever has in its 70-year history.
Presently set at just two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the Doomsday Clock reflects the urgency of two major challenges confronting our world: nuclear weapons and climate change. Turn Back the Clock calls upon all of us—scientists, policy makers and ordinary citizens—to take part in the dialogue and debate about the important science and technology issues that have great impact on our lives.
Atomic Heritage Foundation
The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Age and its legacy. The Foundation's goal is to provide the public not only a better understanding of the past but also a basis for addressing scientific, technical, political, social and ethical issues of the 21st century. AHF works with Congress, the Department of Energy, National Park Service, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations and the former Manhattan Project communities to preserve and interpret historic sites and develop useful and accessible educational materials for veterans, teachers, and the general public.
View the AHF's virtual tour of Manhattan Project sites at the University of Chicago