Before World War II, federal research science was non-existent in this country. However, due to rapid advancements from the Nazi regime, many scientists from Europe grew concerned about the potential destruction that could be unleashed upon the rest of the world. One of these notable scientists, who fled Europe, was Albert Einstein. Another major contributor was Vannevar Bush. A more in-depth look at these two scientists can help bring light as to how the federal government first became involved in federal research science.
Albert Einstein wrote a letter to then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt outlining how the Nazi regime could build a nuclear weapon to attack Allied forces. Not only would this change the face of the war, but it would also spell disaster for the United States. As a result, President Roosevelt built the Advisory Committee on Uranium. The committee funded research by two notable scientists, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, who were studying, isotope separation, which we now know as uranium enrichment. In addition, scientist Vannevar Bush, advocated a need for scientists to play a larger role in the war effort. President Roosevelt agreed with Bush and created the National Defense Research Committee to give voice to scientists.
In 1941, the Advisory Committee on Uranium was renamed to the Office of Scientific Research & Development (OSRD), and with the enhancement of Army resources, became a military research program following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon afterward, Roosevelt named Vannevar Bush as the director of OSRD. However, in 1942, President Roosevelt moved the headquarters of this new organization to New York City, and named Colonel Leslie R. Groves as the head of OSRD. President Roosevelt, seeing the need to bring all of these efforts under one agency, and officially named these collection of groups, the Manhattan Project. Roosevelt also designated multiple sites to build laboratories centered around the atomic bomb’s study, design, and production for the war effort. One of these labs, Los Alamos National Laboratory, would become the site for Project Y, where the first atomic bombs would be tested. The director of Los Alamos, Theoretical Physicist Robert Oppenheimer, began the arduous task of putting all the knowledge, and engineering, to build the first atomic bomb.
On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb, code-named Trinity, successfully tested a detonation at Los Alamos National Laboratory. After the Trinity Test, two more bombs were developed, Fat Man (a Plutonium bomb) and Little Boy (a Uranium bomb), and their creation developed the world’s first glimpse at nuclear weaponry. With their creation, the end of World War II sparked an interesting question as to the future of federal research science. For the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Commission was created to carry on the success of the Manhattan Project for further applications in development. Other federal research organizations would go on to build the federal research system. However, that will be the point of discussion for a new post. I hope you found this bit of history enlightening as to the beginning of federal research in the United States.
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