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‘Critical Assembly’ exhibit opens at National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

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By Jill McLaughlin

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History has opened a permanent exhibit by American sculpture Jim Sanborn that features recreations of secret experiments from Los Alamos’s Manhattan Project atomic bomb program.

“This is an opportunity to see something you can’t find anywhere else,” said Jim Walther, executive director of the museum. “It looks like what it would look like if you would have peered into that setting 70 years ago.”

Sanborn has carefully pieced together scenes from 1945 to create “Critical Assembly, the Secrets of Los Alamos 1944.” The installation includes original electronic instruments, hardware, furniture, tools and materials used by Los Alamos National Laboratory during the 1940s.

Sanborn, who is best known for creating the encrypted “Kryptos” sculpture at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, spent six years collecting pieces for the project from a variety of sources, including former laboratory employees. Any materials Sanborn was unable to collect in Los Alamos, he made himself.

The permanent display was made possible by Los Alamos benefactors Clay and Dorothy Perkins of Los Alamos, Walther said.
“This is a world-class exhibition,” Walther said.

The experiments shown in the installation were used by scientists at the time to determine the exact amount of plutonium or enriched uranium necessary for a spontaneous nuclear explosion.

The museum also recently completed the only replica of the Trinity Test tower, which has a gadget hanging from it, so visitors can experiment what the atomic bomb test was like when it occurred at the Trinity Site in 1945.

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day and is located at 601 Eubank SE in Albuquerque. Call 505-241-2137 for information, or visit nuclearmuseum.org.