Santa Fe and Los Alamos, NM (June 14-17, 2010) -- In just twenty-seven months, Manhattan Project scientists from around the world combined discoveries in nuclear physics with innovative engineering solutions to create the world's first atomic bombs in 1945. Between June 14 and 17, 2010, the Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF), a nonprofit based in Washington, DC, condensed the history into a four-day professional development workshop for New Mexico teachers. The session aimed to help teachers bring Manhattan Project and New Mexico history to their classrooms in line with the New Mexico State Department of Education standards for social studies education.
Housed at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, participants explored the social, cultural, political and military implications of the Manhattan Project through presentations from AHF staff members and experts on the history and science of the bomb as well as film screenings. They participated in walking tours, trips to museums and attended a reading of Broken Hammer, a play by former LANL employee Robert Benjamin illustrating the complex post-Cold War mission of the laboratory.
The workshop began with a comprehensive overview of the Manhattan Project by AHF President Cindy Kelly and a lesson on the science behind the bomb by David Mog, formerly of the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. The introductory section covered four modules: the Birth of the Bomb, Life at Los Alamos, Truman’s Decision and Living with the Bomb. The modules gave teachers a multifaceted overview of the Manhattan Project and its impact on New Mexico. Teachers then dined with Ellen Bradbury Reid, who was a young girl in Los Alamos during the Second World War.
Other speakers included Nancy Bartlit, author of Silent Voices of World War II, who also spoke about the Four Strands of New Mexico history. John Hopkins, retired from LANL, spoke about the lab in the years immediately following World War II. Brandt Petrasek, intergovernmental specialist at the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, shared perspectives from his years working with the Pueblos. Kurt Steinhaus, director of the Community Programs Office for Los Alamos National Security, and George Rael, of the Los Alamos Site Operations for Environmental Management, discussed the lab and its relationship to Los Alamos today.
The teachers also visited a number of historic sites and museums. The excursions included a visit to San Ildefonso Pueblo where Lieutenant Governor Bryan Montoya discussed the relationship between the laboratory and the Pueblo, the Poeh Cultural Center, a walking tour of historic Santa Fed led by Ellen Bradbury Reid, a guided tour of Fuller Lodge and Bathtub Row in Los Alamos, and a special behind-the-fence visit with LANL employee Ellen McGehee to the V Site, Gun Site, Quonset Hut and Concrete Bowl where Manhattan Project engineers assembled the “Gadget” test bomb as well as the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Additionally, teachers explored the New Mexico History Museum, Bradbury Science Museum and Los Alamos Historical Museum.
This year’s workshop is particularly timely. The Atomic Heritage Foundation has just published A Guide to Manhattan Project Sites in New Mexico, a first-of-a-kind guidebook that traces the journey of young Manhattan Project recruits from their arrival in New Mexico to the successful test of the world’s first atomic bomb near Alamogordo. With colorful photographs, it weaves together eyewitness accounts, history, maps and more. The teachers received a copy of this guide and visited many of the places it highlights. Copies will be available for purchase online at www.atomicheritage.org as well as bookstores in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and elsewhere in New Mexico.
This is the second year the Atomic Heritage Foundation has hosted the workshop. New this June was an overnight stay in Los Alamos that enabled teachers to spend more at historic Los Alamos sites. The Los Alamos County Council hosted a dinner for the teachers at the Central Avenue Grill. There, council members and teachers traded insights into teaching the history of the Manhattan Project and the prospects for future preservation effort, including a future Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which the National Park Service recommended in a draft study released in December 2009.
For their participation, teachers are eligible to receive one graduate course credit from the University of New Mexico in addition to an honorarium. All attendees received a “tool kit” containing curriculum suggestions along with other resources on the Manhattan Project. Manhattan Project oral histories, photographs, documents and excerpts from documentary films will be made available at an online educational “wiki” or interactive website developed by the Atomic Heritage Foundation and available to the public at www.atomicheritage.org/wiki. This website is also a place for teachers to exchange Manhattan Project lesson plans and curriculum ideas.
The teachers’ professional development workshop is made possible by grants from the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos National Bank, Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation and Los Alamos County Council. In addition, the Atomic Heritage Foundation is grateful to the Los Alamos Historical Society, Los Alamos National Laboratory and New Mexico History Museum for their invaluable roles.