The Atom: After 20 Years: More Hopes Than Fears

The new age began on a chill, grey afternoon 20 years ago. The site was a laboratory in a squash court beneath the stands of the University of Chicago's old Stagg Field Stadium. Gathered there was a team of scientists and engineers headed by Enrico Fermi, a refugee from Mussolini's Italy. They had finished building history's first nuclear reactor. Now they were using it to produce the first controlled nuclear reaction.

The reactor was beautifully simple. It was called a "pile," and it was literally that—a 500-ton pile of carefully machined bricks...

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