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This is a reprint of the article Dr. Frost wrote in 1996. Where appropriate, notes have been added to direct the reader to current program information.

For more information, please contact at Argonne.

Table of Contents

A Brief History of Materials R&D at Argonne National Laboratory from the Met Lab to Circa 1995

By Brian R. T. Frost, director of Argonne's Materials Science Division from 1973-1984. Posted Sept. 3, 1996.

Photo of CP-1 pioneers at their fourth-anniversary reunion

The fourth anniversary reunion on the steps of Eckhart Hall at the University of Chicago, Dec. 2, 1946. (Click the image to see a larger photo.)
Courtesy Archival Photographic Files, [apf3-00232r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
Download image from Flickr

The Beginning

Argonne National Laboratory officially began life in 1946, but in reality it started when the Metallurgical Laboratory was established at the University of Chicago in 1941 under the leadership of Enrico Fermi. The thrust of the materials work at Chicago was to find ways of producing plutonium for use in atomic weapons. Glenn Seaborg, who discovered plutonium at the University of California, Berkeley, headed the group at Chicago, which developed methods of isolating plutonium from irradiated uranium, while Enrico Fermi and the physicists designed and built the first atomic pile Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1). This pile consisted of a graphite structure through which channels were shaped to contain natural uranium metal and oxide. Removing neutron-absorbing impurities from the graphite and fabricating the fuel elements were the major challenges faced by the metallurgists, notably John Howe and Frank Foote. That they succeeded was shown when CP-1 went critical on December 2, 1942. But their work had hardly begun because there was an urgent push to design and construct the Hanford piles to produce quantities of plutonium. A number of metallurgical problems had to be overcome with virtually no prior experience to draw on.

A prototype or "semi-works" reactor was built at Clinton (later Oak Ridge), Tenn., and the first Hanford pile went critical in September 1944, producing plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb dropped in August 1945, bringing the war to an abrupt end. Meanwhile CP-1 was moved to a site in Palos Hills outside Chicago and renamed CP-2, while a new heavy-water-moderated reactor, CP-3, was constructed there to test aspects of Hanford pile problems, such as radiation effects on uranium fuel. CP-3 assumed normal operation on June 23, 1944.

Enrico Fermi (left) with Walter Zinn, Argonne's first director

Enrico Fermi (left) with Walter Zinn, Argonne's first director. (Click the image to see a larger photo.)

During this exciting period, a number of scientists and engineers participated who were later to form the nucleus of Argonne National Laboratory, among them Walter Zinn, who became the laboratory's first director, and Frank Foote, who became the first director of Argonne's Metallurgy Division.

Reactor Developmentgo to top

The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which in turn established the national laboratories at Argonne, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Brookhaven as contractor-operated facilities, as opposed to civil service labs. Other labs followed -- Ames, Berkeley, Sandia and Livermore. Argonne was operated for the AEC by the University of Chicago, an arrangement that continues to this day. The organization of Argonne at that time was in terms of the new disciplines and the old; thus, there were divisions specializing in reactor engineering, reactor physics, chemistry, metallurgy. etc., and within a division there were sub-disciplinary units, such as corrosion, fabrication, etc. -- an arrangement that continues up to today, which is testimony to its success.

Assembly of EBR-1 core.

Assembly of the core of Experimental Breeder Reactor I at Argonne's Idaho site, 1951. (Click the image to see a larger photo.)

Enrico Fermi and Walter Zinn discussed very early the possibility of developing a fast reactor that could breed plutonium from uranium. Unlike CP-1, -2 and -3, the fast reactor had no moderator, but used highly enriched fuel in a densely packed core, which necessitated cooling by a liquid metal. From this concept grew the design of Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I), cooled by a sodium-potassium (NaK) eutectic, which was approved by the AEC late in 1947 and was built at the new test reactor site in Idaho, first producing electricity in 1951 -- a mind boggling time scale by today's standards.

EBR-I was the first real challenge for the newly formed Metallurgy Division. The initial Mark 1 fuel element contained fully enriched uranium bonded by a NaK eutectic to a stainless steel jacket -- a basic concept that survived through 1995. There was some concern that the clean surfaces of the fuel and cladding would lead to solid phase bonding, which might make the removal of fuel rods from the reactor difficult. Thus, an early research program studied diffusion couples of all possible combinations of metals. Radiation and thermal cycling effects in the fuel were also studied, including irradiation tests in CP-3, the Oak Ridge X-10 reactor and Materials Test Reactor (MTR), which laid the foundation for future designs of metal fuel elements for breeder reactors.

Early hot cell

An early hot cell with "master-slave" manipulators, which were first developed at Argonne.
(Click the image to see a larger photo.)

The Mark II core had U-2%Zr fuel which melted during transient (rapid rampup of reactor power) tests on November 29, 1955. This was due, in part, to the inward bowing of the ribless fuel rods, which caused a reactivity increase. This meltdown required a complicated core disassembly. The mass of solidified fuel and cladding was shipped from Idaho to Illinois for disassembly and detailed examination in newly built shielded caves. It was shown that vaporization of the NaK had driven the fuel away from the core into the coolant channels, providing an effective reactor shutdown mechanism.

An EBR-I Mark III fuel rod and assembly.

An EBR-I Mark III fuel rod and assembly.
(Click the image to see a larger photo.)

EBR-I was restarted with a Mark III charge, which consisted of U-2%Zr fuel metallurgically bonded to Zircaloy-2 cladding, and a subsequent Mark IV Pu-1.25% Al charge, which operated from November 1962 until December 1963 when the reactor was shut down because its successor EBR-II was coming on line. All of these elements were fabricated at Argonne.

December 27, 1947, was an important day for Argonne because on that date the AEC transferred all responsibility for reactor development to Argonne; this included the MTR and the Nautilus submarine reactor, both of which Oak Ridge was developing. This fully stretched the capabilities of the Argonne staff, to an extent that Zinn could initially only allocate 11 of his staff to EBR-I design. MTR and the Nautilus reactor were quickly passed on to others. Westinghouse took over the detailed design of the Nautilus reactor and the civilian version of the naval reactor was built at Shippingport and contributed to the highly successful pressurized water reactor (PWR), which forms the bulk of commercial reactors operating today.

Boiling Water Reactorsgo to top

An Experimental Boiling Water Reactor fuel assembly.

An Experimental Boiling Water Reactor fuel assembly.
(Click the image to see a larger photo.)

Work began in the 1950s at Argonne on boiling water reactor (BWR) development. This grew out of a broad evaluation of reactor concepts and from the design of the CP-5 heavy-water-moderated research reactor, which came on line in 1954 and played a major role in neutron research at Argonne. Zinn relates how an experiment to test heat removal from the CP-5 core during loss of coolant flow showed that boiling heat transfer was very effective and would not compromise core stability.

This led to the design and construction of the BORAX series of reactor experiments, leading eventually to the Experimental Boiling Water Reactor (EBWR) or CP-7, which came on line in 1956, and later the Vallecitos boiling water reactor and Dresden-1 -- both built by General Electric and the forerunners of today's BWRs. The close proximity of Commonwealth Edison electric utility to Argonne was a major factor in Commonwealth Edison being the first utility to build and operate a commercial BWR (Dresden-1).

An EBWR fuel assembly in the fabrication shop with members of the fabrication group

An EBWR fuel assembly in the fabrication shop with members of the fabrication group.
(Click the image to see a larger photo.)

There were five BORAX reactor experiments, each designed to test a particular facet of BWR design. A 1959 publication by Joe Handwerk, then the leader of Argonne's ceramics group, and Robert Noland, leader of Argonne's coating and jacketing group, described the fabrication of the fuel elements for Borax-IV. This employed a thoria-urania pellet fuel lead-bonded to Al-1 wt% Ni cladding in a plate-type geometry. The plates were mounted in a box-type sub-assembly.

The fuel plates for EBWR consisted of U-5wt%Zr-1.5wt%Nb roll-bonded to Zircaloy-2 plates, which were placed in box-type sub-assemblies. Argonne produced 930 acceptable plates, and irradiation tests demonstrated an operational life equivalent to 3 1/2 years of reactor operation.

Corrosion Studiesgo to top

All of this reactor development made major demands on the staff of Argonne's Metallurgy Division. Fast reactor development demanded a knowledge of the compatibility of materials with liquid sodium and the NaK alloy, while water reactor development had very different problems in water corrosion. Corrosion studies at Argonne began in earnest with the Naval Reactor, where knowledge of the corrosion of zirconium in high-temperature water was vitally important. Argonne scientists led by Joe Draley cooperated with the Westinghouse scientists in testing the Zircaloy family of alloys.

It was also important to establish whether corrosion rates were affected by radiation. To assist in this study, Argonne installed and operated a pressurized-water loop in the MTR, mainly to test fuel plates of Al-U-Ni-Fe alloy silicon-bonded to aluminum plates, which were used in some of the BORAX cores and the SL-1 Army reactor.

Radiation Effectsgo to top

Radiation effects were ill-understood both for the fuel and the cladding. The coming online of MTR, CP-5 and the prototype reactors provided the environments for radiation tests, but this, in turn, required adequate hot cells with their associated remote handling equipment to allow detailed post-irradiation examinations to be carried out. A family of hot cells was built at Argonne-East and -West for this purpose. The establishment of a Remote Systems Division gave Argonne a strong capability for developing hot cell equipment, especially master-slave manipulators -- an early form of robotics -- the technology of which was quickly transferred to industry. "Technology transfer" is a buzzword today, but the transfer of reactor technology to industry was a major accomplishment of Argonne in the first two decades of its existence.

The development of the fuel elements for the Hanford production reactors in the 1940s quickly showed that unalloyed uranium behaved poorly in pile. The orthorhombic alpha-uranium grew under thermal cycling and swelled rapidly due to the formation of fission gas bubbles. This led to a two-pronged attack on these problems at Argonne, as at other labs in the United Kingdom and France.

The ability to launch a two-pronged attack at Argonne was made possible by the realization in the AEC in the late 1940s that there was a need to fund basic materials research programs. On the one hand, technological studies of the effects of alloying on swelling and growth phenomena bore fruit in terms of using alloying to increase the fuel burn-up limits, as hinted above. On the other hand, basic studies of the phenomena were very enlightening. An electrolytic method was developed by Bernard Blumenthal and Bob Noland that produced uranium with less than 25 ppm of impurities; single crystals without substructure could be grown from this material by a grain coarsening technique. The possession of these crystals enabled irradiation experiments, reported by Hugh Paine and Howard Kittel at the first Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1955, to show the different dimensional changes along the three crystallographic directions in alpha uranium.

If uranium seemed complex, plutonium was more so, with six allotropic forms and a lower melting point than uranium combined with a low thermal conductivity. Again, a two-pronged attack on these problems evolved at Argonne. Technological alloy development ultimately came up with U-Pu-Zr alloys as possessing good performance and compatibility with cladding. This alloy provided the basis of the Integral Fast Reactor design. At the same time, basic studies were beginning to develop an understanding of the electronic properties of plutonium and its alloys.

Solid State Sciencego to top

The Manhattan Project spawned a new branch of materials research involving new materials and new phenomena, some of which fitted the traditional science of metallurgy and some the newer science of solid state physics and chemistry, the distinction at that time being in terms of macroscopic effects versus atomistic processes. As an example, the development of the graphite moderated Hanford reactors required methods of removing high-cross-section impurities (a mix of chemistry and metallurgy) plus an understanding of radiation effects that caused graphite to swell and distort. The latter was tackled by a team in the Chemistry Division under Oliver Simpson, with Gerhardt Hennig as group leader. This led to an interest in radiation effects in other non-metallic solids, such as sodium chloride, where radiation caused color centers (atomic displacements) that could be annealed out at higher temperatures.

The solid state group in the Chemistry Division grew and in 1959 was accorded the status of a division. Plans were developed to construct a new home for the division, which culminated in 1968 in the dedication of Building 223 -- a modern research laboratory designed with clean rooms, low temperature labs (principally for superconductivity research) and materials preparation labs.

With the startup of the CP-5 reactor in 1954 neutron scattering research increased in both metallurgy and solid state science, along with neutron damage studies over a wide temperature range, including liquid helium temperature of 4 degrees Kelvin, where the defects were essentially "frozen in" and their subsequent annealing could be studied in detail. In the 1960s, Tom Blewitt and his colleagues in the Metallurgy Division used similar techniques to study radiation effects in metals, most notably copper. As will be seen later, this type of work was invaluable in tackling the practical problem of void swelling in reactor alloys.

Plutoniumgo to top

Gloveboxes in the plutonium laboratory, circa 1959

Gloveboxes in the plutonium laboratory, circa 1959.
(Click the image to see a larger photo.)

In 1951, Walter Wilkinson sensed that there was a growing need for more comprehensive facilities for fabricating plutonium fuels at Argonne. A modest lab for studying the physical metallurgy of plutonium and its alloys had been established in the Chemistry Building, mainly for basic studies, and this laid the groundwork for Building 350, which was dedicated in 1959 with Art Shuck in charge, assisted by Jim Ayer, Al Hins and others. At that time, it was one of the world's largest and most advanced facilities of its kind. It included a room 165 feet long and 72 feet wide, containing a herringbone pattern fabrication line with a central spine from which specialized units branched, e.g., casting, extrusion, rolling, welding, etc.

In addition to the fast-reactor fuel elements developed there, a growing need existed for fuel plates for the critical assemblies that Argonne was building to mock up fast-reactor core configurations. ZPR-6 and -9 were built in Illinois and ZPPR in Idaho. Altogether, many tons of plutonium were fabricated for these assemblies.

Experimental Breeder Reactor IIgo to top

EBR-II started out as a logical follow-on to EBR-I with increased power and electricity generation, but it quickly included a unique feature -- the Fuel Cycle Facility (FCF) -- in effect a large hot cell attached to the reactor in which the irradiated fuel elements were reconstituted by melting, which removed the volatile and gaseous fission products. What was left was an alloy of uranium with certain fission products, labeled "fissium". Some Metallurgy Division staff who had been involved in the initial development of the fuel elements moved to Idaho to assist in starting up the FCF. From this grew a significant metallurgical effort at the Idaho location, which continues to this day. The first sub-assembly, fabricated remotely from melt-refined irradiated fuel, was returned to the reactor in April 1965. This feature was phased out by 1969 to make way for a new role for the reactor -- an irradiation test bed for the national fast-reactor program. To accomplish this, the EBR-II project was formed in 1968 to bring together all operations in one organization. A number of senior Metallurgy Division staff, including Howard Kittel, Dave Walker and Bob Noland, moved over into that project, leaving the way open for the Metallurgy Division to hire a number of new, young staff members to begin a different approach to fuel-element development under the leadership of Paul Shewmon, Che-Yu Li, Brian Frost and others.

Advanced Reactorsgo to top

Meanwhile, Argonne's aspirations as the nation's premier reactor development site continued to grow. Two new reactors were conceived in the early 1960's -- A2R2, the Argonne Advanced Research Reactor, and FARET, the Fast Reactor Experiment Test. A2R2 was a flux trap reactor with a designed peak flux in excess of 1015 neutrons per cm2 per sec. Two factors led to its demise: the design of the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge (and maybe the High Flux Beam Reactor (HFBR) at Brookhaven), and delays in getting construction under way. A large hole was dug before the AEC canceled the project, and the hole remained untouched for more than a decade.

FARET was intended to test fast-reactor fuels and components and was overtaken by the AEC's decision to build the Fast Flux Test Facility at Hanford as a larger test reactor, a decision influenced strongly by the naval reactor experience in using MTR, ETR and ATR in Idaho for extensive loop tests of fuel and components. Thus, Argonne lost some of its momentum and leadership in reactor development and became more subservient to the centralized direction by the AEC's Division of Reactor Development and Testing. Included in this shift was the creation of the Program Office at Argonne under Al Amorosi (one of the pioneers of the Naval Reactor program at Argonne and a leading player in the design and construction of Detroit Edison's Fermi-1 commercial fast reactor) to help plan the reactor program. Several key Metallurgy Division staff (Larry Kelman, Larry Neimark and others) joined that office for several years, later returning to the Metallurgy Division.

1959 groundbreaking for the Fuels Technology Center

Frank Foote (right), first director of Argonne's Metallurgy Division, at the groundbreaking for the Fuels Technology Center (Building 212) in 1959.
(Click the image to see a larger photo.)

The Fuels Technology Centergo to top

To retrace our steps a little, the importance of reactor materials research at Argonne was recognized when AEC permission and Congressional approval were granted in the late 1950s to build a new Metallurgy Building, Building 212, designated for political purposes the Fuels Technology Center. This multi-purpose building -- with basic and applied research labs, high bay areas for fabrication and large-scale testing, and hot cells, (the most important being the Alpha Gamma Hot Cell Facility, or AGHCF) -- was dedicated in 1962. It marked a transition from relatively small-scale basic and applied research to a larger scale program. Some of the larger-scale work had, perforce, to be carried out at reactors which included CP-5, MTR and EBR-II, but the samples were returned to Building 212 for detailed examination.

Building 212 shortly after its dedication in 1962.

Building 212 shortly after its dedication in 1962.
(Click the image to see a larger photo.)

Neutron Scattering Researchgo to top

Neutron scattering has a long history at Argonne: Enrico Fermi, Bob Sachs and Bill Sturm did pioneering experiments around 1947 at the CP-3 reactor using a mechanical chopper developed by Fermi with John and Leona Marshall. With the startup of CP-5, there was some emphasis on diffraction studies of hydrides and deuterides of Zr, Hf and Ti because hydrogen atoms scatter neutrons well, unlike X-rays. The same principle has been applied to uranium compounds with light elements, such as carbon and nitrogen; for example Mel Mueller and Hal Knott reported on the structure of UN and UC in a 1958 paper. Later work used the fact that neutrons have a magnetic moment and are scattered coherently or incoherently by materials containing magnetic atoms. Studies of the magnetic moments of a number of actinide compounds, mainly by Mel Mueller and Gerry Lander, helped in the understanding of the electronic structure and properties of these compounds.

Interest in neutron scattering studies continued to grow in the 1970s despite the low fluxes at CP-5 compared to HFBR and HFIR. This led to the concept, espoused by Jack Carpenter, of an accelerator-driven pulsed neutron source which obviates the need for a chopper. Pulses of spallation neutrons, generated by energetic protons bombarding a uranium target, offer several advantages over reactor neutrons. The abandoned injector ring of the Zero Gradient Synchrotron (ZGS) presented an opportunity to build a bargain price spallation source, the Intense Pulsed Neutron Source (IPNS), which has operated since May 1981 and has attracted numerous researchers from U.S. and foreign laboratories (note: IPNS was shutdown in 2008).

Directors of IPNS have included Gerry Lander and Bruce Brown, who began their Argonne careers in the Materials Science Division. Materials scientists have used IPNS in the diffraction mode to study the structure of high-temperature superconductors (see below), for small angle scattering to study fine precipitates in alloys, and for deep-penetration measurements of internal stresses in structures, among a wide variety of studies. For several years a liquid helium radiation effects facility was located close to the IPNS target.

Fuel Element Modelinggo to top

As noted above, the influx of new talent in the late 1960s, combined with the growth of computer technology, led to a new approach to fuel element development based on computer models of fuel performance. Many of these new recruits, especially Dick Weeks and Vyt Jankus, became involved in the development of the LIFE code. This code described fuel and cladding behavior in a reactor as a function of time, using as input the physical properties of the components. This, in turn, indicated the relative importance of the various properties and gave priorities to studies and measurements of those properties. Detailed models of important phenomena, such as fission gas behavior in fuel, provided greater mechanistic insight and led to the development of sophisticated models that are invaluable in making safety assessments and are used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for light-water-reactor (LWR) assessments. Confirmation of the code's capabilities came from integral fuel element irradiations and from measurements of specific properties or phenomena, such as irradiation creep.

Advanced Reactors Post-1970go to top

Reactor development at Argonne has continued to almost the present day, unlike the situation at many other national labs. The 1970s and early 1980s were dominated by the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF), built at Hanford to test fuel element assemblies, and the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, a 350-MWe commercial prototype, which was never built but which absorbed much effort by the labs and industry. Argonne played a role in these developments by testing fuels in EBR-II and examining them in the AGHCF and at the Hot Fuels Examination Facility ( HFEF) in Idaho, which was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Starting in 1984, Argonne took the initiative in announcing the development of a new fast reactor concept, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), which was based on the EBR-II scheme of a fast reactor with an integral fuel reprocessing plant. The key element was an electrochemical cell with a molten-salt electrolyte for separating the actinides from the fission products. Initial work was centered in Argonne's Chemical Technology Division, while later work -- which included the renovation of the Fuel Cycle Facility -- was carried out in Idaho. The fuel was a U-Pu-Zr alloy, which displayed good burn-up and safety characteristics. While the IFR demonstration in the EBR-II plus the Fuel Cycle Facility was ready to operate in 1995, nuclear power opponents succeeded in convincing both the Clinton Administration and Congress to zero out funds for further development and to authorize the shutdown of EBR-II, leaving the United States without a fast-reactor program, in contrast to the rest of the developed world. The Congress and DOE allocated funds to Argonne to close down EBR-II in an orderly fashion and to carry out other nuclear studies, which included nuclear waste disposal and LWR studies on both U.S. and Russian reactors.

Commercial Reactorsgo to top

In the 1970s, a series of corrosion problems developed in commercial LWRs, and Argonne was called on by utilities and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to help in identifying the cause of failures in water circuits. Later work was supported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to assist them in understanding the causes of pipe failures and in developing regulatory guidelines. Following the Three Mile Island core meltdown Argonne assisted in the examination of the remnants of the failed core, using its specialized hot cell capabilities. Currently, Argonne is assisting the NRC in evaluating the potential for extending the lives of existing reactors by up to 20 years, a very important study in view of the lack of orders for new nuclear plants in the United States for the past 15 years (note: the work that Argonne performed for the NRC in the 1990’s when this article was written, has enabled the NRC to grant 20-year license extensions to most U.S. commercial reactors).

Non-nuclear Energy Systemsgo to top

The 1973 OPEC oil crisis led to the consolidation of all U.S. energy research under the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). This led to a considerable shift in program contents at Argonne and the other national labs. The desire to convert our extensive native coal resources into liquid and gaseous fuels resulted in new programs to develop high-temperature/high-pressure processes, which made severe demands on construction materials. The corrosion and compatibility of steel and ceramic components with molten slags, mixed gases and hot liquids were studied in detail. The development of refractories for this purpose led to a collaborative program with suppliers of refractories to the steel industry to make and test improved products.

The desire to improve the efficiency of coal combustion spawned programs on fluidized-bed combustion and magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), both of which involve the containment of corrosive solid/gas mixtures at very high temperatures. An unusual aspect of Argonne's MHD program was the shipment to Moscow of a channel, by Air Force C5A, to be tested in a Russian high-temperature institute. The program was abruptly terminated when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. A more recent activity in fossil energy has been the development jointly with industry of membranes for converting natural gas to liquid fuels and for the separation of hydrogen for fuel cells.

Research on improved batteries and fuel cells has been a major effort at Argonne, based mainly in the Chemical Technology Division (now the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division), but with strong support from materials scientists. The principal thrusts have been on a lithium-iron-sulfide battery, which operates at a high temperature at high efficiency, and on the monolithic solid-oxide fuel cell, which is also efficient and compact. The success of both systems has relied on the development of suitable materials, particularly specialized ceramics.
(Click here for current information on Argonne’s work in electrochemical energy storage.)

Superconductivitygo to top

An exciting area of research, which has involved close cooperation of basic and applied materials scientists, is high-temperature superconductivity. For more than two decades, starting in the 1960s, Argonne had a research program on low-temperature superconductors in both the Materials Science Division and the Solid State Science Division (which subsequently merged), and had practical experience in building hydrogen bubble chambers using Nb-Ti superconducting magnets for high-energy-physics research. When Bednorz and Muller of IBM discovered high temperature superconductivity in 1986, followed by the improvements made by Paul Chu at the University of Houston, Argonne was able to mount a sizable effort in both basic and applied research in this field.

In the Materials Science Division, insights into the structure and properties of the yttrium-barium-copper oxide superconductors were quickly obtained with structural studies at IPNS being especially valuable. Methods of making superconducting wire, tapes and blocks were developed in the then Materials and Components Division (now Energy Technology Division), along with engineering studies of magnet and bearing designs and of magnetically levitated vehicles. This led to the formation of the Illinois Superconductor Corporation (through the ARCH Development Corporation, an affiliate of the University of Chicago), licenses of inventions to several companies and a major collaborative effort with Commonwealth Research Corporation to develop superconducting flywheel storage systems. Much of this has been facilitated through Argonne's being one of DOE's three Pilot Centers for Superconductivity and a partner in the National Science Foundation's Center for Superconductivity with the University of Illinois, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. (Click here for current information on Argonne’s superconductivity research).

Advanced Photon Sourcego to top

A major stimulus to the basic materials research programs was the construction of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne. This 7 GeV synchrotron source, using state-of-the-art wigglers and undulators became the Western Hemisphere’s brightest X-ray source when it came on line at full power in 1996.

Conclusiongo to top

In the past few years, the national labs have been under fire from the Congress. Their roles and even the need for their existence have been questioned. This is due in a large part to the end of the Cold War, which diminished the need for an aggressive nuclear weapons program and, hence, the need for three large weapons laboratories. The demise of advanced reactor programs has added to questioning of the role of the non-weapons labs.

The current Congress is highly critical of the need for the national labs to continue their efforts to aid American industry in competing with the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it seems that labs like Argonne will continue to exist and to play an important role in advancing science and technology. The stewardship of major research facilities is reason enough alone to justify the existence of the labs. But there are many other reasons; as the foregoing text shows, Argonne and its sister labs have the capability of tackling high-risk, long-term problems of a multi-disciplinary nature that universities and industry cannot handle. Accountability is to the taxpayer rather than the shareholder or the examination board, which creates an unbiased attitude towards solving difficult problems; "honest broker" is a term that is often used in this context. These are all qualities that are needed by a country with a large technological base.

Organization of Materials Research at Argonnego to top

In 1946, at the formation of Argonne National Laboratory, a Metallurgy Division was created under Frank Foote, who had joined the Manhattan Project in 1943. After the war, Foote returned to Columbia University for two years, during which time Jim Schumar acted as division director. Foote stepped down as division director in 1965, and Mike Nevitt took over. Meanwhile, a basic solid state physics and chemistry program started in the Chemistry Division under Oliver Simpson, and this became the Solid State Science Division in the 1960s with its own new building.

When Mike Nevitt became deputy laboratory director late in 1969, Paul Shewmon became the director of the Metallurgy Division and changed its name to the Materials Science Division, in keeping with the trend towards embracing all types of materials and not just metals. Paul Shewmon left to join the National Science Foundation in 1973 and later the Ohio State University. In 1973 Brian Frost took over as division director.

In 1982, an attempt was made to unite all materials research at Argonne under one organization -- the Materials Science and Technology Division (MST), which incorporated MSD, SSS and elements of the Chemistry and Chemical Technology Divisions -- still under Frost. When Frost stepped down in 1984 to start the Technology Transfer Center, he was followed by Frank Fradin as director of MST. The retirement of Bob Zeno as director of the Components Technology Division in 1986 led to the splitting of MST into the Materials Science Division, under Fradin, and Materials and Components Technology (MCT), under Dick Weeks, a former associate director of MSD and MST. In 1987, Fradin was promoted to associate laboratory director for physical research, and Bobby Dunlap became the director of MSD. When Weeks was promoted to general manager for energy technology in 1994, Roger Poeppel took over MCT, and it was renamed the Energy Technology Division in recognition of its broader role.

The cost of doing business has changed drastically over this 50-year period. A memo by Foote, dated July 1, 1946, gives a "Plan for the Metallurgy Division..." which shows a staff of 10 professionals, 10 "non-academic" and five shop staff at a total cost of $85,000/year. The mean of professional staff annual salaries was $4,000. By 1964, the organization chart shows seven basic research groups with 40 staff and eight applied research groups with 59 staff. The cost is not given, but it was probably around $10 million/year, because expensive facilities had been added. Today, the total number of staff working on materials problems at Argonne is on the order of 300 people at an annual cost of around $60-70 million.

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Last Modified: Wed, September 25, 2013 9:16 PM

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