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Episode 488

Metallurgical Laboratory
Wed, 2018-Sep-05 00:57 UTC
Length - 3:45

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Welcome to featured Wiki of the Day where we read the summary of the featured Wikipedia article every day.

The featured article for Wednesday, 5 September 2018 is Metallurgical Laboratory.

The Metallurgical Laboratory (or Met Lab) was a scientific laboratory at the University of Chicago that was established in February 1942 to study and use the newly discovered chemical element plutonium. It researched plutonium's chemistry and metallurgy, designed the world's first nuclear reactors to produce it, and developed chemical processes to separate it from other elements. In August 1942 the lab's chemical section was the first to chemically separate a weighable sample of plutonium, and on 2 December 1942 the Met Lab produced the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, in the reactor Chicago Pile-1, which was constructed under the stands of the university's old football stadium, Stagg Field.

The Metallurgical Laboratory was established as part of the Metallurgical Project, also known as the "Pile" or "X-10" Project, headed by Arthur H. Compton, a Nobel Prize laureate. In turn, this was part of the Manhattan Project – the Allied effort to develop the atomic bomb during World War II. The Metallurgical Laboratory was successively led by Richard L. Doan, Samuel K. Allison, Joyce C. Stearns and Farrington Daniels. Scientists who worked there included Enrico Fermi, James Franck, Eugene Wigner and Glenn Seaborg. At its peak on 1 July 1944, it had 2,008 staff.

Chicago Pile-1 was soon moved by the lab to a more remote site in the Argonne Forest, where its original materials were used to build an improved Chicago Pile-2. Another reactor, Chicago Pile-3, was built at the Argonne site in early 1944. This was the world's first reactor to use heavy water as a neutron moderator. It went critical in May 1944, and was first operated at full power in July 1944. The Metallurgical Laboratory also designed the X-10 Graphite Reactor at the Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the B Reactor at the Hanford Engineer Works in the state of Washington.

As well as the work on reactor development, the Metallurgical Laboratory studied the chemistry and metallurgy of plutonium, and worked with DuPont to develop the bismuth phosphate process used to separate plutonium from uranium. When it became certain that nuclear reactors would involve radioactive materials on a gigantic scale, there was considerable concern about the health and safety aspects, and the study of the biological effects of radiation assumed greater importance. It was discovered that plutonium, like radium, was a bone seeker, making it especially hazardous. The Metallurgical Laboratory became the first of the national laboratories, the Argonne National Laboratory, on 1 July 1946.

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