The Archivist’s Nook: Atomic Age Catholics

Rev. William McDonald, Rector, blessing the nuclear reactor in 1957.

“Saturday: Atomic Reactor Demonstration, Tour of National Shrine, Open House Library Science……11:30 & 12:45”

-Homecoming ’58 Schedule, Tower, November 14, 1958

In the fall of 1957, an AGN-201 nuclear training reactor was installed on the Catholic University campus. Originally located in the Nuclear Training Laboratory of the campus Power Plant, this reactor was a compact unit standing nine feet tall and weighing 12 tons. Capable of producing 100 milliwatts of energy – only enough to light a single Christmas tree bulb! – the unit was not intended for powering campus offices but providing a controlled model to train budding nuclear engineers, power plant operators, and faculty researchers. For over 20 years, the reactor was at the heart of a close relationship between the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the University. But why Catholic University and why a nuclear reactor?

Dr. Talbott demonstrating the “Atom Smasher,” 1941.

To understand this partnership, one must understand the fears and hopes of the post-war Atomic Age. While there were fears about the destructive potential of nuclear technology, scientific and political leaders also recognized its awesome potential for good. Advancements in nuclear monitoring and reactor development, declassification of technics, and concern over losing scientific ground to the Soviet Union provided the impetus for Congress to pass the Atomic Energy Acts of 1954 and 1955. These Acts authorized the AEC to provide grant monies to engineering schools for nuclear equipment, ranging from reactors for training power plant operators to biomedical equipment to study radiation’s effects on cancer cells. Catholic University, with its centrality in the nation’s capital and having previously established a nuclear science and engineering program under the joint guidance of the Department of Physics and School of Engineering in 1956, was well-placed to apply for a grant.

With a storied history of aviation innovation with the first experimental wind tunnel in the United States, by the early 1940s, the Physics Department was one of only two Catholic institutions in the United States to possess an “atom smasher.” Maintained by Herzfeld and Talbott, this “smasher” was an apparatus that produced high electrical voltage to charge particles.

Sr. Mary Dolores, C.F.M., a PhD candidate in Biology, and M.S. candidate Donald B. Pribor (right), work with AEC-provided equipment to study the effect of ultrasonics and radio-isotopes on retarding the growth of cancer cells in mice. Dr. Braungart (left) supervises. 1960.

Receiving over $123,000 to acquire the reactor, this became the first of many AEC grants the University would receive in the coming decades. Among the many projects funded by this program was a radioactive isotope laboratory, under the auspices of the Department of Biology, specializing in retarding cancer growth cells in mice. Physics was also provided additional funds to continue the neutrino research of Dr. Clyde Cowan, who had co-discovered the neutrino in 1956. Dr. Cowan joined the Department in 1958. Numerous scientific luminaries were associated with the grant program, including: Drs. Francis Leo Talbott, Karl Herzeld and Clyde Cowan of Physics; Dean Donald Marlowe of Engineering; and Dr. Dale C. Braungart of Biology.

The reactor was relocated several times during its tenure, residing in the Power Plant, McGivney Hall (then known as Keane Hall), and Pangborn Hall. McGivney was even originally constructed in 1958 to serve as a center for physics research, with its deep basement levels providing reduced background interference for the experiments to be conducted. But by the late 1970s, some of the initial public optimism of the Atomic Age had waned following the aftermath of the Three Mile nuclear incident and continuing fears of nuclear war. Although the reactor had been inactive for several years at that point, concerns were raised about its continued presence on campus. By the early 1990s, it was fully decommissioned and removed from campus.

Vestiges of the Atomic Age on campus, 2017.

While this partnership with the AEC thankfully resulted in no giant lizards stomping across the Brookland neighborhood, it did inspire a generation of innovative research and budding engineers, a legacy that continues in the sciences on campus today, whether through the Vitreous State Laboratory’s research into safe nuclear storage or partnerships with NASA.

In addition, the Archives holds the papers of Dr. Clyde Cowan: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/cowan.cfm

Web of Science trial for CUA begins June 1

Catholic University of America Libraries researchers have a trial of Web of Science to use from June 1, 2012. Image from Thomson Reuters Web of Science

Web of Science includes Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Web of Science provides “Cited Reference Search” and subject searching through both “quick” and “advanced” searches. Our Web of Science subscription includes citations and references for articles in almost 9000 high quality, peer-reviewed journals published from 2002 to the present. Web of Science provides complete bibliographic data, searchable author abstracts, and cited references. Coverage is in the sciences (more than 6000 journals), followed by social sciences (approximately 1800 journals), and arts and humanities (approximately 1100 journals). For impact factor information about specific journals, users are directed to the index “Journal Citation Reports.”

Please find the CUA trial version of Web of Science from the  CUA University Libraries page:
Go to: Article Databases & More
Go to: Databases by Name and type in Web of Science

Fact sheet for Web of Science
Short tutorials for searching Web of Science

Find more information throughout the trial on the CUA Science Libraries Facebook page.

Twitter Science!

Where do you get your Science news?

According to the PEW report Understanding the Participatory News Consumer,  “92% of Americans get their daily news from multiple platforms.

  • Portable: 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.
  • Personalized: 28% of internet users have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.
  • Participatory: 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.”

As evidenced by these new titles in the Engineering and Architecture Library and the Physics Library at The Catholic University of America, the Science community is thinking and writing about how people get their science news.

 Science2
Art of being a scientist : a guide for graduate students and their mentors / Roel Snieder and Ken Larner.
CU: Eng/Arch Library,   Q147 .S64 2009
 

Science
Communicating science : professional, popular, literary / Nicholas Russell.
CU: Eng/Arch Library,   Q223 .R87 2010  
 

Digital literacy for technical communication : 21st century theory and practice / edited by Rachel Spilka.
CU: Eng/Arch Library,   T10.5 .D55 2010 

Eloquent science : a practical guide to becoming a better writer, speaker, and atmospheric scientist / David M. Schultz.
CU: Eng/Arch Library,   Q223 .S23538 2009 

Error and inference : recent exchanges on experimental reasoning, reliability, and the objectivity and rationality of science / edited by Deborah G. Mayo, Aris Spanos.
CU: Eng/Arch Library,   Q175.32.I54 E77 2010

Explaining research : how to reach key audiences to advance your work / Dennis Meredith.
CU: Eng/Arch Library, Q223 .M399 2010
 
If you like your Science news portable, personalized and participatory…READ about it… AND try using your social networking tools to keep up with Science news. 

Twitter Feeds for Science: 

Astro_Mike Mike Massimino, NASA astronaut, mission specialist for STS-125

Discovery News from Discovery Channel U.S. PR. Press site at press.discovery.com.

DiscoverMag

IEEESpectrum The latest technology news and analysis from world’s leading engineering magazine.

NASA News from NASA

NatGeoSociety Inspiring people to care about the planet.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History. Author: The Pluto Files, Death By Black Hole. Host: PBS NOVA scienceNOW

NIHSciEd The NIH Office of Science Education develops and sponsors science education programs for teachers, students, and the public.

Scifri Science radio program heard on NPR and create science content for the web. Got ideas? Write @scifri and tweet your questions during the show.

Sheldoncooper Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper is a fictional character on the CBS television series The Big Bang Theory, portrayed by actor Jim Parsons. He portrays a Caltech theoretical physicist.

SteacieLibrary Steacie Science and Engineering Library, York University CA

OR Look at this list and pick your Science area of interest:

100 Amazing Scientists You Should Follow on Twitter

Submitted by: KMH_nowinVA Kimberly Hoffman, Coordinator Science Libraries, CUA

Where Engineering Meets the Arts

“”You’ve scored tickets to a big show on the Las Vegas Strip. A Cirque du Soleil show, say. Or “Phantom of the Opera.” And something happens up there onstage.

A body sinks slowly to the bottom of the sea, trailing a swirl of iridescent bubbles as it descends. An enormous stage slowly tilts 90 degrees on its axis, spilling what had been a sandy beach over the abyss like an amber waterfall. A glittering chandelier plummets from the ceiling, halting mere feet above your head.

And you sit there stunned, wondering: How did they do that?

Someone has to figure out the technological trickery that creates the sort of staggering stage magic for which Vegas is famous. And UNLV is taking the lead, inaugurating a multidisciplinary program merging engineering technical expertise with the creative instincts of the fine arts — with the priceless advantage of access to the largest laboratory in the world, the Las Vegas Strip.”