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Cambridge University Science Magazine

A secretive town hidden from maps, radioactive substances and a bunch of clueless high school girls helping build a nuclear weapon. What may sound like the beginning of a Marvel film, happened to be reality in a small American town called Oak Ridge during WWII.

Far away from the coast and any enemies that could discover its mission, Oak Ridge was built from scratch in 1942, serving the enrichment of the fuel needed to produce the first atomic bomb. With many men drafted overseas, local authorities had to do “the unthinkable”: employ a group of women that had just graduated from high school to take over an engineer’s job. No questions about the whys and wherefores were allowed. Much to the men’s dislike, the new workers did their job exceptionally well, operating huge machines called Calutrons (CALifornia University CycloTRONS). These were u-shaped electromagnetic devices helping to produce the relevant type, or isotope, of uranium needed for the bomb. Within two years the Calutron girls produced about 140 pounds of U-235. While following instructions and working diligently, the women were oblivious to the fact that they significantly contributed to the development of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima over 75 years ago.

By Mirlinda Ademi