New exhibit ‘Secret Pass’ opens today

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‘Manhattan on the Mesa’ gives visitors a new look at Los Alamos’ history

By Sarah von Sternberg

The Bradbury Science Museum will open three new exhibits and a video as part of a new 360-degree, multisensory experience called “Manhattan on the Mesa.”

The exhibits will be dedicated at a public opening today from 4-6 p.m.

The new exhibits focus on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park properties in Los Alamos that are “behind the fence,” or in secure areas that are off-limits to the general public, according to Museum Director Linda Deck.

This exhibit, which was funded by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is a way to experience the historic Technical Areas without actually visiting each one.

For example, the Gun Site, located in TA-8, was used to conduct tests on the gun-assembled weapon designs known as Little Boy and Thin Man.

V-Site, located in TA-16, supported the first assembly work related to the Fat Man weapon design. It was also used to assemble the high-explosive sphere for the Trinity device, known as the “Gadget.”

Battleship Bunker, in TA-18, supported implosion diagnostic tests for Fat Man. These historical sites and more will be explored in depth within Manhattan on the Mesa.

Work is ongoing to stabilize and repair these historical structures within the LANL property, so visitors can eventually set foot in them. Since these sites are on lab property, they require careful planning to allow for access.

Visitors to the museum will experience the history of the Manhattan Project in a visually compelling way, thanks to fresh multimedia exhibits created by New Mexico Highlands University students.

Manhattan on the Mesa includes multiple new exhibits, like a video titled “Racing Toward Dawn,” which examines the lab’s role in the Manhattan Project. This will be replacing the museum’s signature video “The Town That Never Was,” but will still be available on the museum’s website and the lab’s YouTube channel.

“Racing Toward Dawn” is a more encompassing history film that includes what happened at the other two Manhattan Project National Historical Park locations at Oak Ridge and Hanford.

Another part of the exhibit is based on the book, “They Changed the World,” by photographer A.J. Melnick, which consists of photographs and backgrounds of various people who lived and worked at the Lab during World War II, in an interactive format.

An especially exciting addition is called “Behind the Fence,” which is a 360-degree immersive experience of key park properties at the lab that includes exteriors, interiors, sounds and even smells.

All of the new activities are tied together by the “Secret Pass,” which encourages visitors to decode clues and find answers. Those answers are located throughout the exhibit, and the exploration provides a deeper experience.

The 12 students from Highland University played an important role during the production of Manhattan on the Mesa.

These interns were a part of the Program in Interactive Cultural Technology (PICT), which focuses on industry-standard practices and principles while working in a hands-on, collaborative environment with museum staff and in a museum setting. As part of the certificate, the students conceive, produce and fabricate materials for an exhibition space.

One of the benefits of working with the PICT interns is their knowledge and use of modern techniques that young museum visitors will appreciate.

“There’s no better way to invite young visitors to engage with our topics than to have their peers create the kinds of experiences young people crave,” remarked Deck.

According to Highlands University Media Relations personnel Margaret McKinney, the exhibit elements the media arts students created in collaboration with the Bradbury include the 360-degree multisensory experience, the large-scale exhibit panels that display text and graphic information, the new 15-minute video, a touch-screen interactive installation in conjunction with Melnick’s book and the Secret Pass scavenger hunt.

“The students came up with the design ideas and, with our help, carried them out. It was a great experience for them and for us.” said Deck.

Opening remarks at today’s ceremony will be made by LANL Director Charlie MacMillan, Los Alamos Council Chairman David Izraelevitz, Pete Maggiore of the Department of Energy Los Alamos Field Office, Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Los Alamos site manager Charlie Strickfaden, LANL Manhattan Project National Historical Park Steering Committee member Jennifer Payne and PICT project manager Patricia Chavez.

The ceremony will conclude with a ribbon cutting and then attendees can enjoy the exhibits and movie with light refreshments.