The Manhattan Project was the code name of a government program to develop an atomic bomb during World War II. Although over 100,000 scientists and engineers worked on the project throughout the USA, the main work was done at the Los Alamos laboratory in the New Mexican desert. The whole project cost a total of 2 billion dollars.
America’s nuclear program goes back to the year 1939 when German physicist Albert Einstein wrote a letter to American presidentFranklin D Roosevelt, warning him that Nazi Germany was creating a nuclear weapon. Scientists thought that they could releasegigantic amounts of energy by splitting an atom. However large amounts of uranium and plutonium were needed to create such adevice.
After Japan had attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 Roosevelt gave the orders to put together a research group to develop and test a nuclear bomb. In 1942 Enrico Fermi, an Italian who fled from Fascist Italy, conducted the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.
Many nuclear experts, including Canadian and British scientists, started working on an atomic bomb. The American government alsosought the help of German scientists who fled from Nazi Germany.
In 1943 Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project, chose the the desert at Los Alamos as the place to conduct the project. Knowledge was kept within the inner circles of the group so that America’s enemies did not learn about the project.While most of theresearch was carried out at Los Alamos, other facilities in the United States produced uranium and plutonium needed for the Manhattan Project.
On June 16, 1945 scientists conducted the first nuclear test about 400 km south of Los Alamos . The gigantic explosion wasaccompanied by a flash of light, which was visible for many miles, and a tremendous heat wave . The destructive force of 18,000 kg of dynamite formed a crater that was half a mile wide. A mushroom cloud rose over 12000 metres into the sky.
Almost two months after the successful test later America decided to force Japan to surrender by dropping two nuclear bombs. The first one, a uranium bomb called Little Boy was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 . Three days later, Fat Man, a plutonium bomb destroyed most of Nagasaki.
The Manhattan project helped to end World War II and marked the beginning of the Atomic Age .