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Seventy-Five Years After

Trinity

After the Manhattan Project produced the first atomic bombs, its effects rippled through science and society in sometimes unpredictable ways.

By Inside Science Staff

The Manhattan Project's massive effort to build the first atomic bomb led to the Trinity test on July 16, 1945. The project had consumed huge amounts of resources and, in building weapons of unprecedented potency, gave godlike power to flawed humans. It also inspired innovations and actions that continue to cascade through science and culture in ways both predictable and surprising.

In the decades that followed, scientists deployed the Manhattan Project's facilities to advance research across a wide range of disciplines, brought their messages directly to the public more often, saw the New Mexico desert location of the first bomb test become a tourist site, and much, much more.

The power of the atom is undeniable and in many ways unfathomable. The stories, videos and graphics collected here commemorate the 75th anniversary of Trinity and present a snapshot of how deeply the influence of the Manhattan Project has permeated science and culture. While we can’t possibly capture the full extent of the project’s history and legacy, in the timeline and stories below we present elements of it that we found inspiring, surprising, or illuminating. As Manhattan Project physicist Joan Hinton told historian and physicist Ruth Howes, when the sound of the explosion reached those she had gathered with, "We suddenly started talking out loud and felt exposed to the whole world."

1942

The first large plutonium reactor at Hanford shut down shortly after researchers tried to fire it up. Physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, nicknamed “the queen of nuclear research,” traced the problem to Xe-135.

July 16, 1945

The first atomic weapons test, codenamed Trinity, took place at 5:29 a.m., outside Socorro, New Mexico. The site was later designated a National Historic Landmark.

November 1945

The first issue of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was published. In the subsequent decades, the publication has addressed the potential for many types of human-made disasters.

September 1953

After much of the radioactivity had subsided, the first Trinity Site open house was held. The McDonald ranch house, where the core of the weapon was assembled, was restored in 1984 by the National Park Service.

1954

The Atomic Fireball candy was invented by the Ferrara Pan Candy Company. This is just one way that atomic-themed concepts entered pop culture.

March 1959

The American Weekly published a feature by author Pearl S. Buck that recounts a discussion between Manhattan Project& scientists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Arthur Compton about the possibility that an atomic bomb could ignite the atmosphere.

October 1961

Melvin Calvin was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his research on the carbon dioxide assimilation in plants.” The work relied, in part, on radioactive carbon-14 produced in a Manhattan Project reactor.

1996

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which aimed to ban all nuclear explosions, opened for signatures from nations.

The Stories

A selection of women and people of color who achieved remarkable things in science after working on the Manhattan Project.

Nala Rogers, Staff Writer

Isotopes produced in the original Manhattan Project reactors seeded decades of research and even a few Nobel Prizes.

Catherine Meyers, Editor

A glimpse into the history of the start of the atomic age.

Karin Heineman, Executive Producer

The Fear of Setting the Planet on Fire with a Nuclear Weapon

The idea of a nuclear bomb accidentally setting the entire planet on fire was once a fear shared by many.

by Yuen Yiu, July 15, 2020

Highlights from our previous coverage of nuclear weapons and radiation.

Inside Science Staff

The Manhattan Project resulted in reactions both new and unforeseen.

Abigail Malate, Staff Illustrator

Movies, music and even candy wrappers helped people process what it meant to put the powers of gods in human hands.

Chris Gorski, Editor

The potentially world-destroying power of the atomic bomb moved many scientists to engage more directly with the public, an effort that continues to this day.

Peter Gwynne, Contributor

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