Wednesday, April 19, 2017

New Mexico, Albuquerque - Monday, April 17, 2017 - National Museum of Nuclear Science

Last Mountain in Arizona.

On I-40 going east we passed over the Continental Divide, elevation 7275 feet.

We’ve seen the lava rock along this section of I-40 but I still find it interesting.  It actually looks like somebody hauled in big heaps of asphalt.

We are staying a week at the American RV Park just outside of Albuquerque.  We are in site 209 which is an end pull-thru spot – nice.

They offer free continental breakfast every morning in the dining room.

A small retail store is next to the dining room.  They have ice cream so we have to stay away from here.

After lunch on Monday we headed to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.  This museum is a Smithsonian affiliate and the only national museum in New Mexico.  The $10 admission price for seniors was reasonable.  The museum shows the individuals and events that shape the history and technology of the nuclear age. It includes early research to today’s peaceful uses of the technology.

I found the museum interesting but it probably isn’t one of those places I would choose to go back to a second time.  It gave me a whole new appreciation for nuclear physicists – actually, I never gave much thought at all to nuclear physicists prior to this.  As we went through the museum I thought several times about what kind of minds think about this stuff and decide to act on it.  How many things did they blow up on the way to success?  I understood a lot of what was presented, but there were some areas where my eyes started to glaze over.  The videos that were presented in various areas were very informative and interesting.

One of the first exhibits was a Lego depiction of the “Chicago Pile”.  This was built by the physics class at Enrico Fermi High School in Enfield, CT.

Enrico Fermi was an Italian born Nobel Prize winning physicist who headed a team of scientists that put together the first controlled nuclear reaction.  It took place in a squash court under the stands of the unused University of Chicago football stadium.  In what was called the Chicago Pile or CP-1, Fermi and several students piled 500 tons of very pure graphite along with 50 tons of uranium and uranium oxide in a matrix until the pile reached 48 layers.  The graphite and uranium were both machined into blocks about the size of a loaf of bread for easier handling. It took a month to build the pile.

On December 2, 1942 about 40 people witnessed the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.  It meant that the release of atomic energy on a large scale would only be a matter of time.  Success was referred to as the halfway mark on the road to the bomb.

Taking the experiments further were the scientists who were gathered into an instant atomic city, Los Alamos, for the sole purpose of creating an atomic bomb.  This race to create an atomic bomb resulted in a town run like a temporary military base.

When the site was selected for the town it was originally expected to house 500 people, that number rapidly grew to 6500.   There was no time to plan and construct a well-developed town with amenities.  The housing was flimsy wooden apartments that were overcrowded fire traps.  Bathtubs were in short supply.

Besides the obvious tensions of the work and the race against time, a substantial baby boom created another problem – an acute shortage of diapers and hospital beds.  Children born during this period had birth certificates that read “P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, NM” as place of birth.

Los Alamos was a secret town known to the outside world only by its mailing address.  This 1944 driver’s license for a Los Alamos resident lists their name as “Number 224” and their address as “Special List B, Santa Fe”.

This is a reconstruction of the lab at Los Alamos.  Some of the items here are from the Los Alamos lab bought by employees as surplus materials at public sales carried out by the lab.  Other items were fabricated by the artist who put together this display.  It’s hard to believe that something so complex could come from a place that looks so basic.
On the table are “criticality experiments”.  Their purpose was to determine how much plutonium 239 could be packed into a bomb for the maximum yield without making the bomb unsafe to handle.

In the late 1940’s the scientists here referred to these experiments as “tickling the tale of the dragon”.  The work was done with very little personal radioactive shielding.
Plutonium and highly enriched uranium are very unstable metals.  Too much of either material in one place would cause spontaneous fission causing a tremendous burst of radioactivity that would kill everyone in the area.  One of the information boards in the museum said that during some of these experiments the scientists left Jeeps running outside the building in case everyone needed to evacuate quickly – that’s what I call a safety plan.

This is a model of the Boeing B29 that dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb 1800 feet over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.  This was the first nuclear weapon applied to warfare.  The aircraft was named “Enola Gay” after the pilot’s mother.

This bomb casing (the green one) is identical to that used for the “Little Boy” atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima.  Unlike the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb (the yellow one) that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan three days later, the “Little Boy” wasn’t even tested prior to use.

Although it was interesting to learn about the knowledge and the work behind these bombs and the bombs of modern day.  It made me sad that someone ever thought of this use for atomic power.  Military minds might see that differently but the mind of a simple Midwest girl worries.  On the brighter side, this knowledge did produce many improvements in the medical field. 

This is a 1920 Electrostatic X-ray Influence Machine.  The machine is designed to produce static electrical charges through a process known as electrostatic induction.  It produces a static charge through two electrodes.  The charged electrodes are then brought into contact with the affected part of the patient’s body for treatment.  I would choose to be sick.  No wonder people didn’t live very long back then.

I like the display that showed about radiation in a lot of common household products we use every day.  Did you know that Brazil nuts are the most radioactive food?  Some have as much as a thousand times more radium than average food.  I’m seriously considering whether or not we will ever eat the rest of that bag of Brazil nuts I have in the freezer.

Radium was used in self-luminous paints for watches and clocks prior to the 1960’s to make the hands visible in the dark.  I think I remember Mom telling me that I licked this stuff off of some clock hands when I was little.  Greg is still trying to figure out why I was licking a clock.  I’m sure there is more to that story than I know.

One of the early casualties of WWII was red Fiestaware.  The orange red color was achieved by the addition of uranium oxide in the glaze.  The U.S. government confiscated the company’s stock of uranium for bomb making purposes.  After 1959 production of the red Fiestaware resumed using depleted uranium.

Outside was a nice display of very well restored military planes.  This B-52 was pretty impressive.

On the way home we decided to take Central Avenue all the way through town instead of going back out to the interstate.  Maybe by 2018 when this project is supposed to be completed that will be a great idea, not so much today.  There is construction all the way through town.  I was impressed though at the number of construction workers who were busy all along the way.

We had to sit in traffic for a bit when two streets were merging and I spotted this yard – not my style, but interesting.

Central Avenue is also Historic Route 66.  This sign would be pretty impressive at night when its all lit up.

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