In December 1942 University of Chicago physicists demonstrated that the newly discovered element plutonium could be made using a "pile" of uranium and graphite blocks. Aware that Germany was seeking to develop a weapon of unprecedented scale, the United States government constructed a much larger device called the Graphite Reactor at "X-10", in Bethel Valley, 15 miles southwest of here that became part of the "Manhattan Project". With Nobel Laureates Enrico Fermi and Arthur Compton present, the Graphite Reactor on November 4, 1943 began making isotopes that included the quantities of plutonium urgently needed to design the separation processes for the huge production reactors in Hanford, Washington, that produced the fuel for the second nuclear weapon that helped end Word War II. The Laboratory's first director was Martin Whitaker. Eugene Wigner, who later was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics, became research director in 1946. In 1947 the Army transferred the Manhattan Project facilities to civilian control under the Atomic Energy Commission, ushering in a new research mission for what became known, first as the Clinton National Laboratory, and later as Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Laboratory's research program grew steadily due in part to mouse biology studies of radiation and Nobel Laureate
Clifford Shull's pioneering work in neutron science. Over the next half-century hundreds of scientific discoveries and inventions at ORNL established the Laboratory as one of the world's great centers of scientific research with unique capabilities in neutron science, nanophase materials, and high-performance computing. Operated today for the Department of Energy, "X-10" has evolved from its wartime role with the Manhattan Project to a modern mission that addresses national scientific challenges in energy, environment, and national security.
Erected in Honor of the Scientists, Engineers, Managers, and Support Staffs Who Built and Operated this Forerunner of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory By UT-Battelle, June 2005.