Oak Ridge museum opens Alvin Weinberg’s personal archives to the public

August 19, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear News


Alvin M. Weinberg, a founder, Fellow, and fifth president (1959–1960) of the American Nuclear Society, was a Manhattan Project physicist who studied at the University of Chicago before building a celebrated career in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he influenced the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy in the United States. Weinberg’s personal files tell the story of his decades of work in Oak Ridge from the 1940s to the 1980s, and the Alvin Weinberg Archive Project was created to digitize the archive, ensuring that it would be accessible to researchers and the public.

A place in time: Weinberg arrived in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in 1945, and soon became head of the Physics Division of Clinton Laboratories. In 1948, the laboratory was renamed Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Weinberg was appointed director of research, a role he held until 1955, when he was named laboratory director. In 1974, Weinberg moved 17 file cabinets from ORNL to Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), where he founded the Institute for Energy Analysis (IEA) and served as its director until his retirement in 1985. Under Weinberg’s guidance, the IEA studied atmospheric carbon dioxide and its effect on global warming, as well as alternative energy sources.

The archive includes research articles from physicists, anthropologists, environmentalists, government agencies, and more, as well as Weinberg’s own notes, research, and writings from ORNL and ORAU. According to the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, which houses the collection, the focus of Weinberg’s collected materials shifted as his career developed. While earlier documents focus on physics research, later additions emphasize sociopolitical and international resource issues.

While amassing his archives and publishing scientific research, Weinberg also penned three books. He co-wrote a textbook, The Physical Theory of Neutron Chain Reactors, with mentor and Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner. He also wrote an autobiography, The First Nuclear Era: The Life and Times of a Nuclear Fixer, and a collection of essays titled Reflections on Big Science.

Curated for the public: In 1986, Weinberg donated his collection of files to the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, where a friend, Selma Shapiro, served as director. The files were maintained in filing cabinets under Weinberg’s original filing system, according to the museum, and that order and labeling were retained to the extent possible during the digitization process undertaken by professional archivists.

For more information about Alvin Weinberg and this project, visit the museum’s webpage about the archive project, view a video, and visit the archives. In the online archive collection, visitors can browse subjects, search the archive, and view featured collections.

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