The Manhattan Project was the name given to a massive yet clandestine project of the United States in developing the world’s first atomic bomb. Named after the Manhattan Army Corps of Engineers who pioneered the nationwide construction of the project, the project’s infrastructure is actually composed of networked facilities located in several secret locations all across the United States that includes Oak Ridge in Tennessee; Hanford in Washington; and Los Alamos in New Mexico. There were several important precedents prior to the project. In the later part of the 19th century, extensive studies regarding atoms have been conducted by scientists in Europe. Researches regarding radioactivity have been conducted in university laboratories led scientists to further investigate and understand atoms. Among the first to establish the scientific foundation that led to the Manhattan project were notable scientists such as Earnest Rutherford who proposed that the radioactivity is a result of the breakdown of atoms and Neils Bohr who developed the atomic structure using the concept of Max Planck’s quantum theory. Several notable scientists have also made their contributions. Albert Einstein, for example, proposed that the breakdown of atoms would lead to a loss of mass but would result to a massive release of energy, which he proved in his famous equation E=mc2 where E is energy equivalent to mass multiplied to the square of the speed of light. The discovery of fission by Enrico Fermi and the German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann also become important precedents to the development of the atom as a weapon of mass destruction. Aside from the scientific background, what really propelled the Manhattan project was the ongoing war between the Axis powers led by Germany and the Allied powers led by the United States and Great Britain. As observed by Jones, “Hitler's recurring claims that Germany had devised secret weapons, as well as existing intelligence reports on both German interest in the nuclear research of French physicist Frederic Joliot-Curie and German production of heavy water at the Rjukan (Norway) plant, convinced project administrators of the likelihood that Germany had under way a well-developed atomic energy program”. In response, the British government with the aid of notable physicists and scientist urged the United States to investigate the possibilities of creating a weapon that would utilize the potential energy of atoms.
The Manhattan project began in 1942 and ended in 1946. Over its entire operations, it was estimated that the project cost $2.2 billion, which is equivalent to around $37 billion at present value when calculated in terms of buying power over time. The Manhattan project is considerably one of the biggest scientific, military and industrial projects the world has ever known. The project brought together not only economic resources of the United States and Britain but also the greatest minds of the world in one of the largest scientific collaboration. Starting in British laboratories, the program was adopted by the United States in collaboration with the military and refugee scientists in a race against the Nazi threat of producing the first atomic bomb. Despite the massive efforts, it is notable how the project was kept confidential. As observed by Stine, “General Leslie Groves, who managed the Manhattan project, has written that Members of Congress who inquired about the project were discouraged by the Secretary of War from asking questions or visiting sites”. Workers, on the other hand, were made to believe that they are working on some special project without really knowing that they are working to make an atomic bomb. Aside from creating the first atomic bomb and eventually ending the Second World War in a decisive Allied victory after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the Manhattan project paved the way for the Atomic age and has also led to the nuclear arms race between the emerging superpowers after the war. Evidently, the nuclear developments of the world today as well as the risk and benefits associated with it can be traced back to the Manhattan Project.
Gosling, F. (2010). The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb. Retrieved April 2015, from www.osti.gov: https://www.osti.gov/manhattan-project-history/publications/Manhattan_Project_2010.pdf
Jones, V. (1985). MANHATTAN: THE ARMY AND THE ATOMIC BOMB . Retrieved April 2015, from http://www.history.army.mil/: http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/011/11-10/cmh_pub_11-10.pdf
Stine, D. (2009). The Manhattan Project, the Apollo Program, and Federal Energy Technology R&D Programs: A Comparative Analysis . Retrieved April 2015, from http://fas.org/: http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34645.pdf