Albert Einstein was one of the scientists who recommended that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt consider making atomic bombs in World War II. Enrico Fermi was one of the scientists who made it
Fermi was born in Italy, but came to the United States in 1938. Like Einstein, Fermi was a brilliant man, who also won a Nobel Prize for physics.
In 1942, after President Roosevelt had ordered that an atomic weapon be made, Fermi and his team at the University of Chicago were responsible for building the first nuclear reactor. A nuclear reactor is the machine which makes plutonium, the most important ingredient of an atomic weapon. When Fermi proved that his small nuclear reactor would work, President Roosevelt ordered that much larger reactors would be built at what is now the Hanford Site.
Fermi, as the person who designed the first reactor at the University of Chicago, was also very important in building Hanford’s nuclear reactors. As a matter of fact, he was so important, that he had a bodyguard assigned to protect him at all times! Just to be on the safe side, Fermi was even given a different name, called an alias, so that people wouldn’t know who he really was. At Hanford, Fermi was known to most people as Mr. Farmer, not Enrico Fermi!
In September of 1944, Fermi was at Hanford when Hanford’s first nuclear reactor, the B Reactor, was turned on. The B Reactor was the first, full-scale nuclear reactor ever built in the world, and because of that, scientists weren’t sure it would work the way it was designed to. When the B Reactor went operational for the first time, it ran perfectly for about three hours, but then, the reactor stopped working properly. Fermi and some other scientists worked day and night to try and figure out why the B Reactor didn’t work like it was supposed to and they eventually solved the problems. By December of ’44, the B Reactor was working as intended and plutonium was being produced.
Fermi was also on hand when the plutonium from Hanford’s B Reactor was used in the testing of the world’s first atomic bomb in July of 1945. Called the Trinity Test, the bomb was blown up in the New Mexico desert. Less than a month later, the two atomic bombs produced by the United States were exploded over Japan and helped to end World War II. The first bomb blew up over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 and was called “Little Boy”. The second bomb was called “Fat Man”, and it blew up over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9. Fat Man was the bomb that was made using the plutonium which came from the Hanford nuclear reactors.