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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Atomic Culture



Students explore various aspects of atomic culture and create their own artifact.




  • Watch part of the documentary “Atomic Café,” which illustrates nuclear culture.


  • Godzilla (the original)
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Iron Giant
  • The Road Warrior
  • Dr. Strangelove


  • On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss


  • Spiderman
  • Daredevil
  • Watchmen


  • Iron Maiden – “2 Minutes to Midnight,” “Brighter than a Thousand Suns”
  • Metallica – “Fight Fire with Fire,” “And Justice for All,” “Blackened”
  • Tom Lehrer – “So Long Mom,” “We’ll All Go Together When We Go”
  • Slim Gaillard Quartet – “Who’s Next”
  • Teapacks  “Push the Button”



The impact of the Manhattan Project wasn’t limited to the political, military, or scientific spheres.  After World War II, the atom was omnipresent in American popular culture.  Schoolchildren hid under their desks for “duck and cover” drills (as if a few inches of wood or metal could offer any protection against an atomic blast); sports teams were renamed “The Atoms”; bars served atomic cocktails.  The now-ubiquitous peace symbol, formed from the semaphore versions of the letters “N” and “D,” was originally designed to represent nuclear disarmament.  The preoccupation with atomic energy also permeated popular culture for decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Through books, films, comics, and music, citizens of the atomic age expressed fears, hopes and anxieties about the power of the Bomb.



  • Discuss a couple of these sources, perhaps having students make presentations about a work of their choice.
    1. How did the creator feel about the atomic bomb or atomic energy?  
    2. What were they trying to communicate to the reader about it?
    3. What modern stories use the bomb, and how do they use it?  
    4. Do we still feel the same way about the atom, or have new technologies like genetics and computers replaced our fascination?
  • Make your own piece of “atomic culture” – a movie poster, song, or comic book or novel cover.  Write a paragraph about what attitude towards nuclear weapons/energy it is expressing.


More Resources:

AHF articles on atomic culture and the Manhattan Project in popular culture