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You are here:   New College Village »  About New College Village »  Early Science Exhibition »  The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project

As part of the UK war effort, Kit worked with early microwave technology, developing radar-jamming devices as well as tackling practical problems in manufacturing Oliphant’s klystrons. In July 1944, braving the U-boats, he crossed the North Atlantic to visit America on the radar project but stayed to spend the rest of the year with Oliphant at University of California Berkeley.
Oliphant was leading the British Mission to the Manhattan Project. His team was working in the Radiation Laboratory of Ernest O. Lawrence (Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1939) on a calutron - a type of ‘multiple mass spectrometer’ designed to separate uranium isotopes. Kit’s expertise was needed to help improve the design and discharge of the ion-guns that fired beams of electrons to bombard the uranium pellets. At the end of 1944 the team’s work was superseded by other uranium enrichment techniques developed at Los Alamos but after the War it took shape again in the form of the synchrocyclotron, forerunner of the linear accelerator for investigating sub-atomic particles. Its latest incarnation is the famous CERN in Geneva.

Courtesy, Lawrence Berkeley Nat’l Lab.

Courtesy, Lawrence Berkeley Nat’l Lab.

The 184-inch magnet (disc-shaped structure in the centre) previously used in a cyclotron, was rated as a mechanism of warfare and adapted for use in developing ‘a huge mass spectrograph’ (calutron) for separation of uranium isotopes. This research was directed by Ernest Lawrence as part of the Manhattan Project.

As scientists involved in the war effort, Gabor and Milner realised their work was making the world a more dangerous place. This prompted them to draft a 10-point ‘manifesto’ of The Rights and Duties of Scientists in 1940 for the Rugby branch of the Association of Scientific Worker (similar to a worker’s union). To read the 'manifesto' click on the icon in the left margin of the page.  

Although crafted with the serious message that ‘science should be used and not abused’, the authors indulge in puns and tongue-in-cheek humour. It is poignant that it was written 5 years before the devastation of Hiroshima and the subsequent barrage of criticism directed at physicists.

Milner’s patents, war-work and publications were recognized with election to the Fellowship of the Institute of Physics in 1949. In spite of these achievements, the experiences of the Manhattan Project fortified Milner’s desire to educate young physicists to work for the benefit of humankind, not on weapons of mass destruction. In 1952, he pursued a new challenge- deciding to move his young family to Sydney where a new university of technology (now UNSW) was being established.