Information from U.S. Department of Energy
Did you know? “Calutron Girls” were young women hired to work at the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project in World War II. Many were just out of high school and were tasked with monitoring the calutron, which was the machine that separated enriched uranium isotopes.
Here are some more surprising facts about the “Calutron Girls”, according to DOE:
- Most of these young women didn’t know what they were working on. All they were told was that their work would be vital to the war effort.
- In a contest, Oak Ridge proved the young women were more effective at this task than a group of scientists. The scientists were too concerned with figuring out what had gone wrong, while the “Calutron Girls” would just alert their supervisors when there was an issue.
- Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the calutrons were located, is often called the “Secret City.” It wasn’t on any maps, but at the height of the war, 75,000 people lived and worked here. However, the culture of secrecy ran very deep. Letters were heavily censored, and some calutron operators observed that when their colleagues asked too many questions, they were soon out of a job.
- Although the “Calutron Girls” were somewhat forgotten after the war, their story has been experiencing a recent renaissance. In 2013, Denise Kiernan wrote a book about them titled, “The Girls of Atomic City.” And this past February, they were immortalized in a novel by Janet Beard titled “The Atomic City Girls.”
- One of the “Calutron Girls,” Ruth Huddleston, was interviewed for DOE’s “Direct Current” podcast last year. You can hear directly from Ruth and learn more about what it was like to work at Y-12 during the Manhattan Project in the episode titled “Ruth’s Story.” You can find it and other episodes at https//energy.gov/podcast/.
Information by Allison Lantero, a digital content specialist in the DOE Office of Public Affairs. Lantero cohosts the Department of Energy’s flagship podcast, “Direct Current.” Before joining the DOE team, she worked at the Department of Transportation in Public Affairs.
Uranium enriched at Y-12 was used in the first atomic bomb used in wartime. It was code-named “Little Boy” and dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II.
“Did you know?” is an occasional feature on Oak Ridge Today that highlights interesting and important facts about Oak Ridge that might not be widely known or that might be worth repeating occasionally.
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