Enrico Fermi colleagues announce time capsule contents from Research Institutes building

University of Chicago scientists publicly revealed the contents of the time capsule sealed within the Research Institutes building cornerstone June 2 before a crowd of more than 200, including several teams of television and newspaper journalists, with nearly 2,200 more watching live from six continents via streaming web video.

The time capsule, a copper box placed within the cornerstone on June 21, 1949, by Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi and University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins, contained the following items:

  • University of Chicago directory.
  • University of Chicago announcements, May 25, 1948.
  • Architect’s sketch of the Research Institutes building.
  • Booklet titled “The New Frontier of Industry — Atomic Research.”
  • Booklet titled “The Institute for Nuclear Studies, The Institute for the Study of Metals, The Institute of Radiobiology and Biophysics.”
  • Road map, train and airline timetables.
  • List of postdoctoral fellows, Institute of Radiobiology and Biophysics, 1948-1949.

Also found with the time capsule was a 1927 buffalo nickel.

Riccardo Levi-Setti, professor emeritus in physics and the Enrico Fermi Institute, removed the time capsule from the cornerstone and brought it to the stage. Levi-Setti then opened the capsule and handed the contents one by one to Roger Hildebrand, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Physics, Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Enrico Fermi Institute, who proceeded to describe the contents with humor and flair.

Levi-Setti and Hildebrand both knew Fermi personally and spent most of their careers working in the Research Institutes. Also delivering comments at the event were Stephen Berry, the James Franck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Chemistry and the James Franck Institute, and Robert Fefferman, dean of the Physical Sciences Division. Fefferman announced that the time capsule items will be displayed in the William Eckhardt Research Center once it opens on the former site of the Research Institutes building in several years.

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A time capsule that University of Chicago Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi and former UChicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins placed in the cornerstone of the Research Institutes building nearly 62 years ago was opened during a public event Thursday, June 2.

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A forklift stands ready to remove the cornerstone of the Research Institutes building on April 24, 2011.

Photo by Jason Smith

The cornerstone before its removal.

Photo by Jason Smith

Removal of the cornerstone.

Photo by Jason Smith

First discovery of the day: a buffalo nickel that was sitting behind the time capsule.

Photo by Jason Smith

The nickel, minted in 1927.

Photo by Jason Smith

Building engineer Mark Garrity cuts open the time capsule.

Photo by Jason Smith

The time capsule in Research Institutes room 480.

Photo by Jason Smith

From left to right, Robert Fefferman, Riccardo Levi-Setti and Roger Hildebrand remove the contents of the time capsule.

Photo by Jason Smith

The capsule’s contents included a University of Chicago directory from 1948-49.

Photo by Jason Smith

University of Chicago announcements booklet, dated May 25, 1948.

Photo by Jason Smith

The Atomic Research brochure, aimed at an audience of private-sector leaders.

Photo by Jason Smith

Booklet describing the three institutions that would make their headquarters in the building.

Photo by Jason Smith

The list of 1948-49 postdoctoral fellows in the Institute of Radiobiology and Biophysics.

Photo by Jason Smith

The architect’s sketch of the Research Institutes building.

Photo by Jason Smith

The 1948-49 University directory was rather small compared to this year’s two-volume edition.

Photo by Jason Smith

The time capsule also held a set of airline schedules.

Photo by Jason Smith

The vintage maps and train schedules found in the time capsule.

Photo by Jason Smith

Media Contact

Steve Koppes
Associate Director, News
News Office, University Communications
skoppes@uchicago.edu
(773) 702-8366

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