Experiments with the Dragon Machine

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The basic characteristics of a self-sustaining chain reaction were demonstrated with the Chicago Pile in 1943, but it was not until early 1945 that sufficient enriched material became available to experimentally verify fast-neutron cross-sections and the kinetic characteristics of a nuclear chain reaction sustained with prompt neutrons alone. However, the demands of wartime and the rapid decline in effort following the cessation of hostilities often resulted in the failure to fully document the experiments or in the loss of documentation as personnel returned to civilian pursuits. When documented, the results were often highly classified. Even when eventually declassified, the data ... continued below

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Malenfant, R.E. August 12, 2005.

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Description

The basic characteristics of a self-sustaining chain reaction were demonstrated with the Chicago Pile in 1943, but it was not until early 1945 that sufficient enriched material became available to experimentally verify fast-neutron cross-sections and the kinetic characteristics of a nuclear chain reaction sustained with prompt neutrons alone. However, the demands of wartime and the rapid decline in effort following the cessation of hostilities often resulted in the failure to fully document the experiments or in the loss of documentation as personnel returned to civilian pursuits. When documented, the results were often highly classified. Even when eventually declassified, the data were often not approved for public release until years later.2 Even after declassification and approval for public release, the records are sometimes difficult to find. Through a fortuitous discovery, a set of handwritten notes by ''ORF July 1945'' entitled ''Dragon - Research with a Pulsed Fission Reactor'' was found by William L. Myers in an old storage safe at Pajarito Site of the Los Alamos National Laboratory3. Of course, ORF was identified as Otto R. Frisch. The document was attached to a page in a nondescript spiral bound notebook labeled ''494 Book'' that bore the signatures of Louis Slotin and P. Morrison. The notes also reference an ''Idea LS'' that can only be Louis Slotin. The discovery of the notes led to a search of Laboratory Archives, the negative files of the photo lab, and the Report Library for additional details of the experiments with the Dragon machine that were conducted between January and July 1945. The assembly machine and the experiments were carefully conceived and skillfully executed. The analyses--without the crutch of computers--display real insight into the characteristics of the nuclear chain reaction. The information presented here provides what is believed to be a complete collection of the original documentation of the observations made with the Dragon Machine in early 1945.

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  • Report No.: LA-14241-H
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-36
  • DOI: 10.2172/876514 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 876514
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc881275

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Office of Scientific & Technical Information Technical Reports

Reports, articles and other documents harvested from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

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  • August 12, 2005

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 21, 2016, 2:29 a.m.

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  • Nov. 3, 2016, 12:51 p.m.

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Malenfant, R.E. Experiments with the Dragon Machine, report, August 12, 2005; Oak Ridge, Tennessee. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc881275/: accessed October 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.