The 1940s – The Manhattan Project Years and After
Uranium Production (1942-45)
• From the beginning of the Manhattan Project, there is a constant demand for samples of rare earths of exceptional purity in gram amounts or greater. This demand is primarily due to the fact that some of the rare earths are found among the fission products from chain-reacting piles. It is desirable to have a means of preparing pure rare earths so scientists can study their nuclear properties and learn more about their chemical behavior. In 1944, Ames researchers develop an ion exchange process to separate rare-earth elements from each other in gram quantities – something that was not possible with other methods.
1947• On May 17, 1947, the Atomic Energy Commission establishes the Ames Laboratory on the foundation of people, space, and equipment that Frank Spedding had assembled from 1942-1943 to produce high-purity uranium for the Manhattan Project. The purpose of the Laboratory is to build up and maintain a strong group of scientists working in the fundamental sciences.
• The AEC awards the contract to manage Ames Laboratory to Iowa State and appoints Frank Spedding as the Laboratory’s first director. Spedding now directs both the Ames Laboratory and Iowa State’s Institute for Atomic Research, or IAR, giving him extensive authority and autonomy in setting the direction of the Laboratory and defining the research agenda.
Ames Laboratory adds a second building known as the Research Building. It will eventually be named Spedding Hall in honor of Frank H. Spedding, the Laboratory’s first director.
Spedding’s control over both the IAR and Ames Laboratory is unquestionable. His authority extends beyond the physical sciences to include atomic research throughout the campus, including programs in the departments of engineering, agriculture, and veterinary medicine in addition to those in the physical sciences. The IAR’s programs cross Iowa State College department boundaries, leading to confusion regarding long-established departmental independence.
The Ames Laboratory and the college departments associated with it become closely intertwined. The departments become the research divisions of the Laboratory, with their heads serving as division chiefs. Areas of research at the Ames Laboratory tend to promote the development of sound programs in those areas in the associated academic departments, in particular chemistry and physics. The departments provide the personnel for the Laboratory’s research efforts, and the Laboratory responds with appealing research opportunities and financial support.
Government funding increases the appeal of Iowa State to those scientists whose research interests coincide with those of Spedding and the federal government. Federal resources help the university develop its standing as a center for materials research.
What will become a close, enduring and productive relationship between Ames Laboratory and Iowa State is set firmly in place with the sharing of personnel, space and equipment – a practice that began during the war years and a tradition that will continue in the years that follow, binding the university and the Laboratory together.