Darragh E. Nagle, a physicist who worked on the first nuclear - TopicsExpress


Darragh E. Nagle, a physicist who worked on the first nuclear reactor in Chicago and on the first nuclear explosion in New Mexico, will be remembered in a public memorial service Saturday. Nagle died April 22 in Santa Fe at age 94. Born Feb. 25, 1919, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Percival Edmund Darragh Nagle and Mabel M. Russell, Darragh Nagle studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge University in England and Columbia University in New York City, where one of his teachers was the famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. In 1942, Nagle, then 23, joined Fermi at the University of Chicago, where weeks earlier the world’s first nuclear reaction had been initiated in Chicago Pile-1, a pile of enriched uranium pellets and graphite blocks in an underground rackets court beneath the bleachers of a football field. In a 2003 interview for the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s Voices of the Manhattan Project, posted online this year, Nagle recalled that the Gothic stadium had ivy covering walls blackened with city soot, making it “a very gloomy place from the outside. It looked like a good setting for a third-rate murder mystery.” Later, Nagle was sent to Los Alamos. “We were a little group that did experiments that Fermi wanted done,” he said. “These typically involved irradiating some samples in the reactor and then measuring the radioactivity that was produced. But whatever Fermi wanted done, we would do. … “Fermi had a rule: When there was an experiment going on, using a critical assembly or any part of that, we were told to stay out of the building. … Sometimes we would just go for a hike. … You can say it wasn’t very fair for us to do that when other people were working hard, but orders were orders.” Nagle said he thought he had it relatively easy during wartime by getting to live in a nice location like Los Alamos, and that he was never troubled by the censorship, but sometimes his work was dangerous. “We were involved in the preparations for the Trinity test, and our job was to collect soil samples from the crater as soon as possible after the explosion, and that involved fitting out a Sherman tank with lead shielding,” he said. “One of my jobs was to supervise the placement of the lead shielding. I was very interested in that because I knew I was going to have to ride in that tank, and the lead shielding was what was going to keep my radioactive dose to something perhaps tolerable.” He and two other physicists took turns sticking a spade in the ground through a hole in the floor of the tank. “We didn’t allow Fermi to go in,” he said. “We couldn’t risk him in such a place. We knew that the Sherman tanks have a habit of stalling, and so we wondered what would happen if the tank stalled in the crater, and we knew the answer. I mean, that would have been the end. No way we could have gotten out. Fortunately, none of the runs ended that way.” Nagle married Avery Leeming in 1949 in Salisbury, Conn., with whom he had three children, Carol J. Nagle of Santa Fe, Darragh J. Nagle of Santa Fe and Patricia G. Nagle, who lives on the east side of Sandia Peak. His wife preceded him in death. Their children survive him, as do his granddaughter Bebhinn L. Nagle, niece Pamela Keelin and grandnieces Amy Orgliano and Christine Keelin. Nagle helped design the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility accelerator, which generates subatomic particles for use in cancer treatment. He was a senior fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of the founders of the Santa Fe Institute. After retiring from the lab in the early 1990s, Nagle became involved in gamma ray astronomy, which requires a pool of water filled with gamma ray detectors. He found a suitable location for the the Milagro Gamma Ray Observatory in the old drainage pool for the lab’s thermal drilling project near Fenton Lake. His public memorial service is at 11 a.m. Saturday at Quail Run, 3101 Old Pecos Trail, where he had lived in recent years. To listen to the Voices of the Manhattan Project interview, visit manhattanprojectvoices.org/oral-histories/darragh-nagles-interview. Contact Tom Sharpe at [email protected]
Posted on: Thu, 06 Jun 2013 12:56:54 +0000

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