Particle physics laboratory

Ames Laboratory celebrates 75 years of science and service

  • Adam Schwartz is the director of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and a materials scientist.

Residents of the state of Iowa are used to being told by strangers that their state is an “overflown” country, that “there’s not much going on there.” Iowans, however, know their true worth and quietly pursue their own unique brand of excellence in Iowa, such as being the nation’s largest producer of corn, soybeans, and pork; or second largest wind power generation in the United States

In that same sense of unassuming modesty, many Iowans don’t realize that we have a US Department of Energy National Laboratory in our state; The Ames Laboratory is one of 17 DOE National Laboratories and the only one physically located on a college campus – Iowa State. Ames Laboratory celebrated its 75th anniversary on May 17, 2022.

Ames’ lab took root during a difficult time in the country’s history during World War II – the technological race between the Allied powers and Nazi Germany to be the first to discover nuclear capabilities. The US government’s Manhattan Project was the first to succeed, demonstrating the world’s first nuclear reactor on December 2, 1942 at the University of Chicago. A key ingredient was ultra-purified uranium, processed at Iowa State College by a group of scientists and engineers led by Frank Spedding and Harley Wilhelm. The Ames Project, as it was known then, invented, perfected and scaled to produce a uranium purification process in just a few months. The project went on to produce a total of 2 million pounds of purified uranium for the Manhattan Project. The feat of rapid research, development, and production was such that Project Ames was awarded the Army Navy “E” flag, for excellence in wartime productivity.

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Ames Laboratory is, since its creation, a laboratory of chemistry, physics and materials. While we started long ago with uranium, we are now discovering, studying, manufacturing and optimizing the performance of materials such as rare earth metals and compounds, catalysts, superconductors and other man-made substances with mysterious and enticing, which could make the next new technological vision soar into reality. And these discoveries often do – the science developed at the Ames Lab is not only respected around the world by researchers, it has also been the foundation of some of the best tech start-ups in the state of Iowa. .

The Ames Laboratory in Iowa was founded on the idea of ​​science serving the nation. We continue to do so, bringing the best minds in physics, chemistry, engineering and computer science to the challenges facing our country today and in the future. Ongoing research at the Ames Laboratory has simplified the production of biofuels; it improved manufacturing efficiency; it tackles the problem of plastic pollution; it develops a radically different refrigeration technology; he finds ways to recycle, reuse and replace materials that are in high demand across multiple industries around the world. Plus, our close collaboration and partnership with Iowa State University means that not only do we share some of the brightest minds working in research today, but we’re helping educate the next generation of scientists and researchers. engineers, the problem solvers of the future.

A plaque commemorates the work on uranium at Iowa State College during the development of the atomic bomb by American scientists.  (Special at the Registry)

On our 75th anniversary, Ames Lab employees and retirees celebrated in true Iowanian fashion – gathering in the lab’s maintenance shop for a barbecue and ice cream, good food without too much fuss. Despite this typical understatement, we want the people of Iowa to know and be proud of their national laboratory, its scientific and technological heritage, and its commitment to future innovation.

Adam Schwartz is the director of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and a materials scientist.