War Research

Columbia faculty supported the war effort through their research. The Manhattan Project began at the University in 1940, with experiments in Pupin and Schermerhorn Hall. When the project was relocated in 1942to more secure locations, some of the faculty followed, devoting their war years to helping to create the atomic bomb. Others remained at Columbia where they conducted research that enhanced the effectiveness of weapons systems used by the military.

University faculty engaged in war-related research included three Nobel laureates. Enrico Fermi, who made some of the earliest discoveries in nuclear fission, directed the team of scientists and engineers that built the first nuclear reactor to achieve a self-sustaining reaction. Harold Urey pioneered the development of gas diffusion, which was used to obtain enriched uranium-235. I. I. Rabi spent the war improving the detection capacity of the military’s radar systems.

I. I. Rabi, a Columbia alum us and professor of physics, took leave of the university during the Second World War to work on the Manhattan Project and on the development of radar. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1944.
Courtesy Columbia University Archives.