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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Princeton, NJ

Smyth Report

While not a major site of production like Los Alamos or Oak Ridge, the scientists and knowledge coming out of Princeton University were instrumental for the success of the Manhattan Project. Princeton, like the University of Chicago and the University of California at Berkeley, was an essential component of the Manhattan Project’s success.  

Princeton University was a hotbed for nuclear physics research during the early twentieth century. Much of the research conducted at Princeton allowed scientists to develop and pursue a path to building the world’s first atomic device. More than two dozen Princeton faculty were among the core group of brains at Los Alamos, N.M. Many of these scientists had fled persecution in Nazi Germany.

Albert Einstein, who was living in Princeton, conducted research at the Institute for Advanced Study and was a source of attraction for other world class physicists who came to Princeton to discuss theories with him. In 1939, Danish physicist Niels Bohr traveled to Princeton and met with Einstein to explain the discovery of atomic fission.

The chairman of the physics department at Princeton, Henry DeWolf Smyth, worked on U-238 separation and also wrote the War Department’s official history of the atomic bomb project.

Physicist Eugene Wigner, a pioneer in quantum theory, also taught at Princeton and developed the university’s first atom-smashing cyclotron in 1936 to study the nuclear properties of uranium. Brilliant mathematician John von Neumann used his photographic memory to solve unfathomable physics problems. During the Manhattan Project, von Neumann showed that the implosion design, which would later be used in the Trinity and Fat Man bombs, was likely faster and more efficient than the gun design. He also created the concept and design of the explosive lenses used in the implosion bombs. Another important Manhattan Project contributor from Princeton was Hugh Stott Taylor, who discovered one of the most effective catalysts for producing heavy water.


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