On Thursday, October 18, 2012, the Atomic Heritage Foundation led a group of fifteen visitors from around the country on a behind the scenes tour of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. We were invited to tour the Nicholas C. Metropolis Center for Modeling and Simulation. Metropolis was a Hungarian emigree and brilliant mathematician whose creative ideas contributed significantly to the Manhattan Project. After the war, he designed the one of the first high-speed electronic digital computers, MANIAC, for “mathematical and numerical integrator and computer.”
Jon Ventura, a senior advisor at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, led our group inside the center. We peered through glass windows at a football-field-sized room filled with machines. Jon explained that the supercomputer, which comprised a major portion of the space, can run 1.35 petaflops of data per second. A single petaflop is the equivalent of a million billion calculations. It takes programmers six months just to write the code to create a simulation of that magnitude.
We also donned 3D glasses to watch the simulations created by the supercomputers. "Dino Splash" is a dramatic 3D re-creation of the dinosaur-killing asteroid striking the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago. A second simulation explored what forces might be able to deflect a meteorite heading for earth.machines. Jon explained that the supercomputer, which comprised a major portion of the space, can run 1.35 petaflops of data per second. A single petaflop is the equivalent of a million billion calculations. It takes programmers six months just to write the code to create a simulation of that magnitude.
Jon Ventura’s briefing about LANL’s work today covered a diverse portfolio of work beyond maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile. For example, LANL is using its computing power to help the Center for Disease Control understand the trajectory of AIDs and other epidemics. Jon also proudly showed us the restored and newly displayed Laboratory's Army-Navy "E" Award flag in the Los Alamos Weapons Conference Center. The "E" Award was presented to Los Alamos in 1945 for “excellence” in its work in the production of the atomic bomb.
After a tasty lunch at the Dixie Girl (formerly Central Avenue Grill), we were treated to a wonderful tour in the Oppenheimer house. Heather McClenahan, executive director of the Los Alamos Historical Society (LAHS), and John Ruminer, chair of the LAHS Historic Properties Committee, gave us an excellent briefing on the Oppenheimer house and its history dating from 1929 when the Los Alamos Ranch School built it. During the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty and their two small children lived there, from 1943 to 1945.
Helene Suydam, 93, was most gracious to entertain the group in her home. Helene and her late husband Bergen (Jerry) Suydam, a theoretical physicist, came to LANL in 1947 and purchased the house in 1956. Helene shared many charming stories about the house and what it was like when the Oppenheimers lived there.
In 2003, the LAHS entered a living trust agreement with the Suydams. The agreement transfers title to the historical society but permits the Suydams to live there as long as they wish. Later, the Suydams generously decided not to ask for compensation but to donate the property to LAHS.
The modest house covers about 1,200 square feet and appears much as it did when Oppenheimer family lived there. As Helene explained, “We did not change a thing.”
Photographs of Oppenheimer entertaining guests in the living room eerily evoke a sense of their presence. When a Manhattan Project National Historical Park is created, it will be a “jewel in the crown” of the Manhattan Project experience in Los Alamos.
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