Enrico Fermi colleagues announce time capsule contents from Research Institutes building

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

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.