1942: UChicago’s Race to the First Nuclear Reaction
Scholars discuss the scientists at the University of Chicago who, on Dec. 2, 1942, achieved the first self-sustained nuclear chain reaction—as well as the implications of the historic experiment.
Witness to history reflects on first nuclear reaction
In 1942, Ted Petry was a teenager recruited to a secret government project at the University of Chicago that sought to achieve the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Working with scientists including Enrico Fermi, he helped construct the 20-foot reactor known as Chicago Pile-1 and was present on December 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.
Scientists describe CP-1 project in 1967 film
The film The Day Tomorrow Began, produced by Argonne National Laboratory, tells the story of the construction of the first nuclear reactor. The 30-minute film includes interviews with members of the Metallurgical Laboratory team at UChicago and those closely associated with them, such as Glenn Seaborg, Laura Fermi, General Leslie Groves, Walter Zinn, Herbert Anderson, and Leona Libby.
The New Nuclear Landscape and Its Implications for International Security
In the first event of the series “Nuclear Reactions—1942: A Historic Breakthrough, an Uncertain Future,” Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, moderates a discussion on today’s nuclear landscape with Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA; US Representative Bill Foster, 11th District of Illinois; and Robert Rosner, the William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago.
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.
Nuclear Pioneers Remember the Dawn of the Nuclear Age
On December 2, 1942, 49 scientists, led by Enrico Fermi, made history when Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1) went critical and produced the world's first self-sustaining, controlled nuclear chain reaction. Seventy years later, two of the last surviving CP-1 pioneers, Harold Agnew and Warren Nyer, recall that historic day.
CP-1 70th Anniversary Symposium
On December 2, 1942, 49 scientists, led by Enrico Fermi, made history when Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1) went critical and produced the world's first self-sustaining, controlled nuclear chain reaction. Seventy years later, Argonne National Laboratory hosted a special symposium to celebrate the event. One of few surviving CP-1 pioneers, Harold Agnew, shared his remembrances of working with Fermi and the birth of atomic energy. Len Koch, a leader in developing Argonne's Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1), the first nuclear reactor to produce electricity from a plutonium core, also shared his memories of working at Argonne during the heyday of nuclear research.
Atomic Heritage Foundation Virtual Tours
The Atomic Heritage Foundation offers virtual tours of Manhattan Project sites at the University of Chicago. Each tour features audio/visual vignettes drawn from interviews with Manhattan Project veterans and their families. Use your smartphone or tablet to take a self-guided tour while visiting campus, or take a tour from the comfort of your home.