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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Civilian Life at Los Alamos

Grade Level:


Students will read accounts of civilian life at Los Alamos and role-play as a censor screening sensitive information from outgoing civilian mail.



  • Writing materials
  • Access to Internet sources
  • If there is time, students might also read the book The Secret Project Notebook by Carolyn Reeder, about a group of children at Los Alamos during World War II whose curiosity about the project gets them in trouble.
  • Another account that students may enjoy is The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, a young adult novel about a girl who moves to Los Alamos with her mathematician father during the war.



Imagine that you are a member of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED) program or a civilian worker during World War II who has just arrived at Los Alamos.  Using information from primary sources, write a letter to send home about your experiences at Los Alamos, detailing your impressions of the project and of your work.

In reality, if you had tried to send such a letter the government censors would have returned it covered it in black marks and asked you to rewrite it so that it did not disclose anything about your real job or location. As a second part of the activity, another student should read the letter and mark it up as if they were a government censoring agent and explain to the letter writer why he or she decided to eliminate parts of the letter