National Medal of Science
For inspired and ingenious leadership in the development of gaseous diffusion plants for uranium isotope separation, and for his role in creating the discipline of nuclear engineering.
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BirthOctober 9, 1907
Country of BirthUSA
Key ContributionsWork On Manhattan Project
Established Discipline Of Nuclear Engineering
Awarded byGerald R. Ford
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Areas of ImpactTransportation
AffiliationsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Other PrizesEnrico Fermi Award
A neutron is fired at uranium-235, splitting the atom’s nucleus into pieces. This process – called “fission” – powered “Little Boy,” the 1945 nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The bomb works by sparking a chain reaction of neutrons striking nearby nuclei and releasing high amounts of energy in the form of a devastating explosion.
But the bomb’s key ingredient, uranium-235 – an isotope with a different atomic weight than its original element – wasn’t easy to come by in nature.
Manson Benedict, a scientist with the Manhattan Project, solved this problem, devising a way to separate uranium-235 from uranium-238 using a method called “gaseous diffusion.”
The process required a massive facility to house hundreds of cascades for reactions to take place.
Benedict – who would eventually become MIT’s first professor of nuclear engineering – supervised the building of Tennessee's K-25 plant where the fission-ready uranium isotopes used in “Little Boy” were produced.