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Critical Solutions

CRITICAL SOLUTIONS tells the story of the chemists of the Manhattan Project, how they created an entirely new branch of science (radiochemistry/nuclear chemistry), and unfortunately due to security and classification requirements, never received credit for the incredible work they accomplished. These discoveries created the modern world and are arguably one of the most important events in human history.

While other details of the origin story of nuclear fission have been told in great depth, the story of the chemistry and separation techniques remains missing. Relying on first hand accounts from Project veterans, current radiochemists, military experts and historians, a more complete understanding of how these scientists changed the modern world is gleaned. Touching on everything from power production, national security, space travel, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, fundamental science, and other influential aspects of society, the information learned from these trailblazers can’t be underestimated.

The monumental effort of academia, industry, and government (the original nuclear triad) all working in concert allow the United States and its allies to successfully develop these technologies in the face of almost insurmountable odds. Venturing far beyond the naturally occurring elements, scientists learn to create specific isotopes to be utilized in extremely specific applications that advance their immediate war goals and branch widely into the fields of medicine, space exploration, power production, and other society directing arenas.

Charles Coryell (Chief of the Fission Products Section), Glen Seaborg (discoverer of plutonium and Nobel Prize Winner), Gerhart Friedlander (Leader of the Radioactive Lanthanum group in the Chemistry Division and refugee from Nazi Germany), Lawrence Bartell (Chemist in Seaborg’s plutonium research group), Bert Tolbert (Separation chemist in E.O. Lawrence’s Radiation Laboratory) and others each contribute unique and largely unknown voices. Successes, failures, fears, and laughter of their time working on the Manhattan Project help bring the danger, urgency, and scientific excitement of those times to the fore. Jenifer Shafer (Colorado School of Mines) provides an engaging and informative perspective into current academic research of these unique elements. Troy Mueller (Director, Nuclear Technology and Safety at Naval Reactors) is an expert in shielding/safety, and will add weight and real life examples of just how important these topics are to radiochemistry/nuclear technology and the modern world.

Associated Members

Michael Travers, Independent Filmmaker


We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation
City of Boston Arts and Culture