Chicago Pile One scientists at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1946, the fourth anniversary of their success.
Chicago Pile One scientists at the University of Chicago on December 2, 1946, the fourth anniversary of their success.
License: Public Domain

First Self-Sustained Nuclear Chain Reaction Achieved

At 3:25 P.M. on December 2, 1942, the Atomic Age began inside an enormous tent on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field. There, scientists headed by Enrico Fermi engineered the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction. The result, sustainable nuclear energy, led to creation of the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants—two of the twentieth century's most powerful and controversial achievements.

Four years earlier the Italian scientist received the Nobel Prize for Physics. Planning to defect, Fermi attended the award ceremonies in Stockholm with his wife and children. Like so many intellectuals who left fascist Europe, Fermi came to the United States and worked at Columbia University.

…the Italian Navigator has just landed in the New World…

— Coded telephone message confirming first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942.

On December 2, 1942, scientists achieved the world's first self-sustained nuclear reaction at Stagg Field on the campus of the university under the direction of professor Enrico Fermi. A sculpture by Henry Moore marks the spot, now deemed a National Historic Landmark, where the nuclear reaction took place. Stagg Field has since been demolished to make way for the Regenstein Library.