Tag Archives: Snapshots

Atomic Snapshots: 109 E Palace

109 E Palace

In a nondescript arcade of shops in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was the unassuming front face of the Manhattan Project for Los Alamos and the Hill: 109 E Palace.

Dorothy McKibbin, the “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos,” would process each of the scientists and families and keep the overwhelming secretarial work in order, essentially ensuring the top-secret access to Los Alamos.

The entrance to the old offices was off the patio, in back, where men and women entered through the alleyway, and the townsfolk never saw them come out. They were whisked away out the back and spirited to Los Alamos. 

Today, the building has been rezoned and numbered, and the current 109 E Palace is a chocolatier with an entrance on the street.

Go to the back of the courtyard to see the historical marker. And don’t forget to visit the Los Alamos History Museum to see the original door, history, and a tribute to Dorothy McKibbin.

Atomic Snapshots: Mallinckrodt

In the Bremen area of St. Louis, Emil Mallinckrodt purchased land for a potato farm in 1840. By 1867, his three sons (Gustav, Otto, and Edward) had established a pharmaceutical company (Mallinckrodt Chemical Works) producing industrial, specialty chemical, and radiological chemical agents.

In 1942, Mallinckrodt was approached by the Metallurgic Laboratory to refine the uranium that would be part of the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at Chicago Pile-1 on December 2, 1942.

Mallinckrodt still has facilities in this area, although the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October, 2020. Building 51, which refined the uranium for the early stages of the Manhattan Project, was demolished in 1996 as part of the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). This program, now operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, identifies, investigates, and cleans up or controls sites in the United States contaminated as a result of the Manhattan Engineer District or Atomic Energy Commission activities.

West Lake Landfill (SLAPS)

Residues from uranium processing at Mallinckrodt are stored at SLAPS (St. Louis Airport Site), or West Lake Landfill, which is one of 33 superfund sites in Missouri on the National Priorities List. You can see this site as you fly out of St. Louis — a city with a long history of radioactive contamination.

Mallinckrodt Plaque
“In this building was refined all the uranium used in the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear reaction December 2, 1942”

As an aside, we contacted the public relations office of Mallinckrodt inquiring of the whereabouts of the plaque (see picture, above) that used to be on the building. The spokesperson said that it was “probably stored in archives” after the building was demolished. (Cue the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

Atomic Snapshots: Trinitite

Trinitite is a mineral with a glass-like consistency that was formed by arkosic sand drawn up inside the fireball of the plutonium atom bomb tested at the Trinity site in New Mexico.

Trinitite sample
A fragment of trinitite found on display at the Harry S Truman Presidential Library.

Trinitite glass formed both as pancake fragments (like the crusted top of a crème brûlée) on the ground from the blast as well as formed into bead and dumbbell shapes that rained down in molten form when material was drawn into the fireball.

Trinity ground zero
Air photo of ground zero 28 hours after the Trinity Test. The dark material with radiating spikes is the trinitite glass layer. Most of this material was subsequently buried. (White Sands Missile Range)

Green trinitite, the most common, is theorized to contain blobs of melted iron and lead which are bits and pieces of the first atomic bomb and the support structure. Green trinitite

Red trinitite, found to the north of the test area, contains material in the glass from the copper wires that connected the bomb to instruments in the bunkers.

Trinitite found on the ground while at the Trinity Site Open House, White Sands Missile Range

Trinitite can still be found at the Trinity site (available for visits twice each year during the White Sands Missile Range Open House) although most of it was removed and buried by the U.S. government.

Since 1952, it has been illegal to take trinitite from the site. Prior to the ban, lots of the material was gathered for collectors, jewelry, and souvenirs. Trinitite from that era is still widely available for trade.

Trinitite is only mildly radioactive and considered safe to handle.