VIP observers of a U.S. atomic bomb test, Operation Greenhouse, Enewetak Atoll, 1951

In a historic discussion at the Santa Fe Institute May 12-13, 2012, a hand-picked group of physicists, historians, social scientists, theorists, and writers examined the long-term scientific, political, social, and cultural legacies of the Manhattan Project in a timely discussion of an important event in world history that still influences science and society today. Harold Agnew, who was part of the historic effort to develop the first atomic bomb, participated in the discussion.

SFI collaborated with the Nuclear Diner to offer the discussion live on Twitter. You can read the Nuclear Diner Tweet feed here.

The group discussed new information, reviewed original records, and mined the memories of project participants to present a case study in conflict from an important period in scientific history.

Topics include the Manhattan Project’s scientific legacy, including its influence on setting scientific agendas and subsequent developments in physics and complex systems modeling; the project’s political legacy, including the Cold War and the politics of funding scientific research; and its philosophical and cultural legacies.

“We had no agenda other than to look at the issue,” says Ellen Bradbury-Reid, who co-organized the event with SFI External Professor Linda Cordell. “The panelists were not here to present papers or push any agendas. They came together to discuss the issue and answer questions.”

More about the Santa Fe Institute working group, including biographies of the participants and discussion topics, here.

As a leader in the sciences of complex adaptive systems, the Institute's researchers are interested in complex social dynamics; recent research is working toward a theory of conflict in human and animal societies. The Manhattan Project has become an important case study for understanding conflict. The project’s history also illustrates the occasional tension between pure theoretical research and applied science.