Jane Hamilton Hall
In the 1940s, the so-called Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago was a crucial center of wartime nuclear research. The work at the Met Lab, however, went beyond metallurgy. It was a place where physicists like Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Glenn Seaborg, and Walter Zinn could move from the theoretical to conduct nuclear-fission experiments.
Working at the Center of Atomic Research
In 1944 and early 1945, Jane Hall moved on to the Hanford Engineer Works in Washington state as a senior supervisor for the Du Pont Company to, as she described, “babysit the construction of three nuclear reactors.” While working for this contractor of the Manhattan Project, she headed the Special Studies Section, where she assessed the safety of production reactors and investigated the hazards of plutonium inhalation.
Her next move was back to Chicago to the Argonne Laboratory of the Met Lab where she spent a short time as an associate physicist and assistant to the Laboratory Director Enrico Fermi. Working alongside the man who first achieved a controlled nuclear chain reaction was an impressive experience for the 30-year-old Hall. After all it was Fermi’s achievement that created the belief that an atomic bomb could be built.
Beginning Her Long Los Alamos Career
In the late 1940s, Jane was involved with the LASL plutonium reactor project. Her Lab associate and friend Jay Wechsler remembers Jane’s comment about that project. Jane remarked, “Even good engineering wouldn’t have made it a very good project.” Nevertheless a list of Hall’s LASL technical papers and reports from 1948-1950 reflects her ongoing interest in the characteristics and modifications of the Los Alamos plutonium reactor.
Recognizing Her Leadership Skills
Recognition of Hall’s leadership skills spilled beyond the mountains of northern New Mexico when President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 appointed Hall to the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. This nine-member committee of scientists was created, according to its charter, “to advise the Commission on scientific and technical matters relating to materials, production, and research and development.”
Dealing with National and International Issues
She also directed her expertise to the many citizens concerned about the safety and the future developments of atomic energy. She had been an activist in the Atomic Scientists of Chicago and after the war joined the executive committee of the Association of Los Alamos Scientists.
Extending Her Expertise to the Community
Hall worked with this group by sharing her expertise on health physics with radio listeners in the community. Her contributions over the years reached beyond LASL.
Her associate, friend, and neighbor Jay Wechsler comments on Hall’s friendliness and readiness to have a good time. He remembers her laughing with his wife Carol over the antics of a so-called posthypnotic medical specialist in Santa Fe and Jane’s usual party question, “Are we going to dance?”
He concludes, “Jane Hall was a very effective person—one of the best we ever had.”