Monday, August 23, 2010

Slice of Life: Invisible Nuclear History

It looks like just another athletic field now, but this was the location of one of the most important events in human history.  Some liken it to the development of speech, or the discovery of fire, or the invention of the wheel.

I'm no scientician, so I'll quote the Manhattan Project entry from Wikimopedia:
The first major scientific hurdle of the project was solved on December 2, 1942, beneath the bleachers of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, where a team led by Enrico Fermi, for whom Fermilab is named, initiated the first artificial self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in an experimental nuclear reactor named Chicago Pile-1. Compton reported the success to Conant in Washington, DC by a coded call, saying, "The Italian navigator [referring to Fermi] has landed in the new world, the natives are friendly."
There's supposed to be a marker around here somewhere making note of the event, but I haven't been able to find it yet.


One of our readers posted a response below letting us know where the marker is.  Unfortunately, instead of being friendly and helpful he decided to be rude and insulting, so his comments have been deleted.

But the upshot is that there is a marker.  It is on Ellis Avenue, south of East 56th Street.  Sadly, such an important monument is not noted on the University of Chicago's campus maps.

The reader incorrectly claims that Stagg Field no longer exists, though it is clearly labeled on U of C's campus maps.  As colleges are always evolving, it is likely that Stagg Field was once larger, or in a different location, or both.  But it certainly exists.


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  3. Stagg field was relocated to it's present location about 20 years after it was demolished in the 50's or 60's. It was located on the grounds where the regenstein and max palevsky dorms now sit, about a block east from where the reincarnation of stagg field is. The university of chicago president at the time, Hutchins, wanted to de-emphasize athletics: What better way than to build an enormous library where a huge football field once stood? There is actually a bronze sculpture on the exact location in the squash court underneath the old stagg field where Enrico Fermi situated chicago pile-one. You were about a block away. For reference, it's right next to the pink dorm (max palevsky west).

    for the sculpture
    Regenstein library (the gigantic glass dome currently under construction on the other side of the sculpture is the Mansueto library addition)
    Dorm next to the sculpture

    There's a lot more than the gothic main quad at the University of Chicago to look at, even if it get's most of the attention. The Reg has held up a lot better than most Brutalist buildings, the Booth School is interesting, especially the atrium, and it's right across the street from the Robie House. Max is cool, south campus is interesting, the new library addition is striking, MSI is 3 blocks away, and there's even more than I could mention offhand.

  5. Thanks for the information, Kipp. I'll make an effort to get down there for another round of photos when I can. I only had a couple of hours on campus, and I love Gothic architecture anyway, so it seemed natural to gravitate toward the campus superstars.

    I am slowly developing an appreciation of brutalist structures, but it's taking a while. Hopefully by the time I get down there I'll understand more what I'm looking at.

    Again, thanks for the posts.


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