More UCD history during WWII

By From page A5 | November 20, 2013

I enjoyed the articles on local history during World War II. One piece of history that has almost been forgotten is the contribution UC Davis made to ending the war.

As part of the Manhattan Project, the Tennessee Eastman Company was hired to manage the production of enriched uranium for atomic bombs. Ernest Lawrence at UC Berkeley discovered a method that turned uranium into a gaseous form, making extraction of U-235 possible.

Lawrence asked Herbert A. Young, an assistant professor of chemistry at UCD, to head a research group to study ways to process uranium for the electromagnetic isotope separation machines, or calutrons. Tennessee Eastman funded the project in 1942 and it was carried on in the north wing basement of the Chemistry Building at UCD. In 1943, the government moved Young and his team to a secret military base in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Young headed the Y-12 project there to produce enriched uranium, eventually enabling the atomic bomb to be built.

After the war, Young returned to UCD, chaired the chemistry department, and later was the first dean of the College of Letters & Science. The Chemistry Building was named after him.

Some time after the war, workers from the UCD Physical Plant had to go into the attic to do some repairs, ignoring the radiation signs that were there, being were exposed to significant levels of radiation.

As part of the Manhattan Project, a strange square concrete tower with no windows was built to store radioactive materials in front of where Bainer Hall is now located. The building was incredibly solid. I remember watching a crane and wrecking ball work on knocking the building down and it took a whole week to do so.

From 1943 to 1945, the U.S. Army Signal Corps contracted with the university to completely take over the UCD campus, establishing the Western Signal Corps School with headquarters in the library. The core campus was fenced and guards posted, turning the campus into an armed camp known as Camp Kohler.

Robert Walraven

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