Metallurgical Laboratory

Metallurgical Laboratory

Metallurgical Laboratory

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The Metallurgical Laboratory or "Met Lab" at the University of Chicago was part of the World War II–era Manhattan Project, created by the United States to develop an atomic bomb. It was where Enrico Fermi created the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction under the university's football stadium.


In July 1939, at the urging of physicists Eugene Wigner and Leó Szilárd, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt explaining the military potential of nuclear fission and calling for the United States to develop atomic weapons before Nazi Germany did.

In response, Roosevelt appointed a committee to direct the research. Early funding was meager, but in 1940, scientists at Columbia University and the University of California were able to demonstrate the weapons potential of the isotope uranium-235 and the newly-discovered element plutonium.

Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Nobel Prize laureate Arthur H. Compton quickly gained support for consolidating plutonium research at Chicago and for an ambitious schedule that called for producing the first atomic bomb in January 1945, a goal that was missed by only six months.

"Metallurgical Laboratory" was the "cover" name given to Compton's facility. Its objectives were to produce chain-reacting "piles" of uranium to convert to plutonium, find ways to separate the plutonium from the uranium and to design a bomb. Most of...
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