EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published on July 25, 1963, and was reprinted as part of the 70th anniversary of The Riverdale Press.
New York City’s first critical, or “hot,” nuclear reactor will be installed on the campus of Manhattan College.
College officials this week were awaiting the formal government go-ahead to begin work on the reactor, which is expected to be put into use in September.
Completion of the reactor will give Manhattan “probably the best undergraduate nuclear laboratory in the country, and (one) better than many graduate laboratories,” according to Professor Charles F. Bonilla, chairman of the Nuclear Engineering Committee at Columbia University.
The training reactor, valued at more than $120,000, is being donated by American Machine and Foundry Co., for use by undergraduates studying in the nuclear science program at the college.
Designed and constructed by the AMF Atomics Division in Greenwich, Connecticut, the new Manhattan reactor is known as a zero-power reactor, since it operates at the extremely low power of one-tenth watt. It would take the reactor one hour to heat a pint of water to one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit.
It is called a “critical reactor” because it produces enough energy to keep itself going, like a fire with enough heat to keep itself burning.
The reactor will be installed by a team of AMF engineers and technicians headed by Laurence W. Crevoiserat, project manager in the reactor system section of AMF Atomics in Greenwich.
The new facility will be housed in the college’s new engineering building at West 240th Street and Corlear Avenue. Its limited power will not require special shielding for the students working with the assembly.
“The use of the zero-power reactor will be the climax of the entire nuclear science sequence,” said Brother Conrad Gabriel, professor of physics and chairman of the nuclear science program at Manhattan.
“The tremendous advantage of this reactor is that it will be possible, for the first time, to construct controlled operations, which are normally performed on a 10-kilowatt reactor, and with no radiation hazards.”
Manhattan introduced a nuclear science sequence to science and engineering students in 1958. It includes courses in higher mathematics, atomic and nuclear physics, and nuclear reactor theory.
In January 1959, a light water-moderated sub-critical reactor was designed and installed by physics department faculty members in Paulian Hall on the campus.
“As a teaching tool, a reactor should be available to students for large portions of time, be simple enough so that principles can be clearly demonstrated and understood, and should have its principal parts visible and accessible to students, if possible,” Brother Gabriel explained.
“The AMF reactor fits all these specifications. Its chief purpose will be to instruct science and engineering students in a broader scope of nuclear science than we’ve been able to do in the first four years of the program.”
In outlining Manhattan’s objectives in the nuclear field, Brother Cecilian Leonard, head of the physics department, said that the faculty is convinced of the importance of nuclear science education at the undergraduate level.
“To this end, we have developed during the past four years a program designed to give the student preparing for a traditional engineering or science discipline a special background in nuclear science through professional electives.”
Brother Leonard noted that Manhattan will have 180 physics majors in all four classes beginning with the fall term. Engineering students who have chosen the nuclear science sequence as an elective No. 110.
With the addition of the reactor, the laboratory facilities for nuclear science at the college will have equipment valued at $442,000. Other major units include a graphite-moderated sub-critical reactor valued at $100,000, a nuclear reactor simulator valued at $25,000, a neutron generator valued at $15,000, a multi-channel analyzer valued at $18,000, and two analog computers valued at $22,000.
The usual monitoring, detecting, and analytical nuclear instrumentation required in such a program represents an additional investment of $40,000.
Did you enjoy this great story from the history of our community? Don't let your newspaper become history. Like many businesses, we're working hard to make it through the pandemic, and appreciate any help you can offer. Donate to keep great journalism like this alive for another 70 years to come by clicking here.