AUTHORBaker, Richard D. / Hecker, Siegfried S. / Harbur, Delbert R.
TITLEPlutonium: A Wartime Nightmare but a Metallurgist's Dream
PERIODICAL TITLELos Alamos Science
DATE PUBLISHED1983
VOLUME NUMBER4
ISSUE NUMBER7
PAGE NUMBERS142-151
ISSN0273-7116
Web Access
Available online from Federation of American Scientists


This article pairs an historical discussion of the scientific developments of plutonium both during World War II and after with a technical analysis of the six allotropic phases of plutonium to illustrate its complexity as a metal. After discovery of plutonium in 1941, chemists and metallurgists of the Manhattan Project made tremendous strides in its study that enabled its use in the construction of atomic bombs by 1945. The article tracks how scientists during the war first alloyed plutonium with aluminum and then with gallium to arrive at a stable delta phase, which was malleable, and was thus able to be used in fabrication of nuclear weapons. Postwar research on plutonium, though fruitful, has been limited relative to research on steel, for example, emphasizing that plutonium metallurgy is still in its nascent stages. The article concludes with a detailed explication of plutonium at the atomic level, employing much more technical language that requires knowledge of the principles of chemistry. The article is supplemented with historical photographs, graphs, and tables and includes a brief bibliography.


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