Manhattan Project study room open for all

The largest collection of Manhattan Project documents and memorabilia, outside of the federal government, is housed at SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences, according to Denise DeGarmo, associate professor and chair of the political science department.

The collection is housed in Peck Hall in The Arthur V. DeGarmo, Jr. Research Room for the Study and Preservation of the Manhattan Project Legacies.

The Manhattan Project refers to the atomic research conducted by the U.S. government during World War II.

The study room began as a result of DeGarmo’s father’s work with the Manhattan Project and its fallout.

Russian poster portraying atomic issues.

“My father was involved in the development of radar systems for the NIKE program as well as the Anti-Ballastic Missiles system for the U.S. Department of Defense. He served as the chief design engineer on HIPAR, Perimeter Acquisition Radar, the Sentinel program, NIKE X BFS, NIKE Hercules, and FPS 6, FPS 8, CPS 1, CPS 4, CPS 5, [and] CPSA 6B” according to Degarmo. “These systems came about in response to the growing nuclear threat spawned by the Manhattan Project.”

Many of the documents came from different trips that DeGarmo has collected during her studies of the topic.

“I collected about 95% of the documents during research trips that I have made,” said DeGarmo.

Evening Star newspaper front page.

Students working for the Political Science Department spend hours each weeks combing through the boxes of files and documents that DeGarmo has collected in order to catalogue and organize the documents.

“Most of the students work three to four hours a week. Me and another student are working on the memorabilia,” said Zach McGinn, a senior political science and philosophy double major. “The most interesting thing I have found is a document on the psychological effects of the U.S. bombings on Germans.”

The room contains displays set up with uniforms and equipment of the project. DeGarmo said the most interesting item for her is a mummified, irradiated lizard from one of the bomb tests from one of the Los Alamos, New Mexico sites.

The irradiated lizard DeGarmo added to the collection.

People outside SIUE are also encouraged to use the study room. C.D. Stelzer, a writer and independent researcher is using the room to conduct research for a documentary. The documentary plan is to elucidate the history and issues of the early atomic era, especially in the St. Louis region.

Stelzer found out about the study room from DeGarmo.  According to DeGarmo and Stelzer, not many people know the history of St. Louis involvement in the Manhattan Project.

“Early atomic bomb work was done in St. Louis. They [Mallinckrodt Company] processed some of the first uranium used in making the atomic bombs,” according to Stelzer.

A student worker was fascinated by this as well.

“What fascinated me most during my experience was the extent to which the St. Louis area was involved in the processing of uranium, and the resistance of the federal government to compensate affected individuals,” said Alexander King-Martin, a senior political science major.

Military uniform on display in the DeGarmo study room.

The study room offers students a different method of discovering lessons of history.

“[I learned] the inconceivable ability of the government to hide world-altering programs from the general population, as well as the ability of individuals to justify horrifying actions in the name of science and national security,” said King-Martin.

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