Manhattan Project App Allows Users to Tour Secret WWII Lab

When efforts were made during the Second World War to construct an atomic bomb, it was shrouded in total secrecy. However, today the story is becoming public knowledge through the Manhattan Project. The public can now visit the project through their smartphone device. This app is called the “Los Alamos: Secret City of the Manhattan Project”. It takes users back to New Mexico in the 1940s where the facilities full of scientists were located. This is also where government administrators and the United States military congregated to develop the most devastating weapons the world had ever seen.

Jennifer Payne, leader of the Resource Management Team at Los Alamos’ Environmental Stewardship Group said, “The new app provides a virtual tour of a Manhattan Project property that no longer exists.” The research that went into the Manhattan Project took place at more than one site, but the work at Los Alamos was primarily responsible for constructing the first atomic bombs. The main ingredients were uranium and plutonium. Research eventually led to the “Trinity device” which was detonated 220 miles south of the Los Alamos facilities, at the Trinity test location and finally the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” nuclear bombs. Those are the two that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 toward the end of World War II.

Most of the facilities have been dismantled or closed off to the public. However, the app allows users to navigate through the black and white film noir grounds of the place. Along the way you encounter information on the science, people and history of the project. In total, there are 137 “bread crumbs” of historical facts, photographs and documents to find. Travis Burkett is the man who headed the development team for the application. He currently lives in a Los Alamos house which was built by the government.

Large electromagnet called "Alpha 1 racetrack", at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, around 1945, part of the secret US World War 2 Manhattan Project to make an atomic bomb.
Large electromagnet called “Alpha 1 racetrack”, at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, around 1945, part of the secret US World War 2 Manhattan Project to make an atomic bomb.

As users explore the map and the site’s history, they will receive a “security clearance” upgrade which opens up additional places to explore and visit. The journey culminates with a chance to see the Trinity site and the test detonation that took place on July 16th, 1945.

Burkett said, “[The Manhattan Project] is really the reason why Los Alamos exists. In addition to information about the bombs, the game includes information about the town and people. There is also an augmented reality (AR) feature for visitors to the Los Alamos site of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Before this, Burkett and his team had worked to map facilities at Los Alamos for firefighters without security clearance. It allowed them to learn the layouts of the buildings without administrators having to order the activities for tours to be shut down temporarily. Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Bradbury Science Museum are responsible for producing the application. Users are able to download it currently on iOS and it is free to download and play. Burkett and his team are hoping that everyone will want to use it. They even hope the older generation will be open to trying it out.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE