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‘Secret City’ to be revealed at science fest

July 7, 2018

While van tours of three previously off-limits Manhattan Project sites are already booked up, historical walking tours, hands-on science demonstrations and other activities will be offered in Los Alamos during next week’s ScienceFest 2018 — The Secret City Unlocked.

“This is the largest ScienceFest we’ve had,” said Lauren McDaniel, director of the nonprofit Los Alamos Main Street, a partner in the event along with Los Alamos County and the Los Alamos Creative District under the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation.

The Wednesday-through-Sunday festival, now in its 11th year, “is truly a communitywide, collaborative marque event for Los Alamos,” McDaniel said, “and it appeals to a range of individuals and interests. We showcase the history of Los Alamos and highlight current science taking place here.”

Guided walking tours, van tours and self-guided tours off-site of Los Alamos National Laboratory are still available. Among the things that those taking the guided walking tours will learn is that historic Bathtub Row got its name because the nine buildings there were the only ones in town with full bathrooms with tubs during the first part of World War II.

A testament to the lure of the nuclear lore that surrounds the World War II project that developed the first atomic bomb is the fact that Manhattan Project National Historic Park tours featuring three sites open to the public for the first time are already full with no additional tours currently scheduled.

Included in those tours is the Slotin Building, where Canadian scientist Louis Slotin suffered a lethal dose of radiation in 1946 while demonstrating how to bring two halves of a plutonium pit together in an experiment called “tickling the dragon’s tail.”

The same plutonium core or pit, known as “Rufus,” which killed Slotin also killed another scientist months earlier, and after Slotin’s death it was dubbed the “demon core,” according to research by nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein.

Under a ramping up of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced in May that production of plutonium pits, the grapefruit-sized cores that trigger nuclear weapons, will be increased. LANL is expected to produce as many as 30 pits per year while 50 more will be produced in South Carolina.

Other sites “behind the fence” at Los Alamos National Laboratory on the historic park tours include the Pond Cabin and battleship bunker.

The cabin was built in 1914 and once housed the library of Ashley Pond, founder of the Los Alamos Ranch School for boys, which was taken over in 1943 for the Manhattan Project.

The battleship bunker, so named because the west end was shaped like the bow of a battleship, was built in 1944 and used for implosion diagnostic tests for the bomb code named Fat Man, which was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945.

If you go

What: ScienceFest 2018 — The Secret City Unlocked.

When: July 11-15.

Where: Los Alamos

Activities:

• Atomic City Van Tours; July 11-15, 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; small group van tours of the community spawned by the secret Manhattan Project during WW II. Reserve at 505-662-2547 or http://atomiccitytours.com/contact; $25 per person, accompanying children $10 each, cash preferred; departures from Bradbury Science Museum, 1350 Central Ave.

• Los Alamos Historical Society – Guided Walking Tours, July 11-14, 11 a.m., step inside the homestead-era Romero Cabin, visit an Ancestral Pueblo site, hear about the giants of 20th century physics who walked Los Alamos streets. Tickets include museum admission, available at the Los Alamos History Museum Shop, 1050 Bathtub Row; $15 age 19 and older; 18 and younger free with a ticketed adult; tours last approximately an hour and a half.

• Discovery Day; hands-0n science demos for all ages with more than 70 exhibitors; July 14, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; at Ashley Pond Park, between Central Avenue and Trinity Drive and Fuller Lodge lawn, 2132 Central Ave.; beer garden, food and live music, noon to 6 p.m. at Fuller Lodge.

More information: https://www.losalamossciencefestival.com/tours.

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