Aims of Education address to discuss legacy of first nuclear chain reaction

As a physicist and former director of Argonne National Laboratory, Prof. Robert Rosner has a unique perspective on the history of the first nuclear chain reaction, which was achieved Dec. 2, 1942 at the University of Chicago.

Rosner will discuss the scientific milestone and its complex legacy in UChicago’s annual Aims of Education Address on Sept. 19. His speech comes as the University begins a commemoration this fall of the 75th anniversary of the experiment.

“It was a unique moment in the history of the University, and the complexity of the kinds of issues that were raised in the experiment is really stunning,” said Rosner, the William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics.

The Aims address, which is given by a UChicago faculty member to first-year students, will take place at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. It will be webcast on UChicago’s Facebook and livestream pages starting at 6:30 p.m. CDT.

Rosner led Argonne, which grew out of the Manhattan Project, and is a member of the science and security board of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which was created by UChicago scientists to discuss the implications of atomic technology. In his address, Rosner will discuss the far-reaching impacts on science, medicine and energy, as well the development of nuclear weapons, which came from the first chain reaction.

The Aims address has been held during Orientation Week since 1962, providing incoming students an opportunity to reflect on the purpose and definition of education as they embark upon their collegiate years.

“I’ve gone to many Aims lectures myself and then participated in the dorms in the discussions,” said Rosner, who will lead a colloquium with first-years at Snell-Hitchcock Residence Hall following his address. “The students are always engaged and curious.”