The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Phoenix Memorial Laboratory

On June 9, 1955, the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory, situated on the North Campus, was dedicated. The laboratory is a tangible manifestation of the Michigan Memorial-Phoenix Project, the University's war memorial research project devoted to study of the peacetime implications and applications of atomic energy.

The Phoenix Project itself was created on May 1, 1948, by action of the Board of Regents, on recommendation of its War Memorial Committee (R.P., 1945-48, pp. 1261-62). The project draws its financial support primarily from students, alumni, and friends of the University. This support totaled about $7,500,000 when the drive for funds was completed.

As the research program on peacetime implications and applications of atomic energy began to take shape and gain momentum, it was apparent to the Preliminary Planning Committee of the project that a laboratory with special facilities was needed. Research on atomic energy involves the handling of large amounts of radioactive materials and the use of high intensity radiation sources. Such work can be carried out safely and adequately only in facilities designed for the purpose.

On March 14, 1951, an informal committee on building plans was appointed by Dean Ralph A. Sawyer, then chairman of the Preliminary Planning Committee, and later Director of the entire project. The building committee, consisting of Professors H. B. Lewis, D. G. Marquis, and Dean G. G. Brown, reported on March 22, 1951, recommending Page  1700the construction of a laboratory, "to provide facilities for work in the field of atomic energy, that the planning be co-ordinated with plans for the Engineering Research Institute and the Cooley Memorial and incorporate suitable features as a Phoenix Memorial."

The new Executive Committee of the Phoenix Project, at its meeting of October 20, 1951, Dean Sawyer presiding, authorized the construction of a memorial building, and a building committee was appointed to draw up and submit plans.

On January 11, 1952, it was announced that Cornelius Gabler, of Detroit, architect for the Engineering Research Laboratory, had been selected as the architect for the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory. Professor Henry J. Gomberg, newly appointed Assistant Director of the Project, was named chairman of the building committee. Later, William Parkinson, of the Department of Physics, and Alfred S. Sussman, of the Department of Botany, were added to make a committee of three. Edward R. Baylor, of the Department of Zoology, was appointed in August. The first task of the committee was to decide upon the research facilities which the building should provide.

The problems involved in properly accommodating radiation research proved to be difficult, particularly since many of the requirements were new and there was little literature or experience to draw on for guidance. The committee received excellent support and assistance from many faculty and staff members, however, in particular, from H. R. Crane, of the Physics Department, W. W. Meinke, of the Chemistry Department, L. E. Brownell, of the Chemical Engineering Department, G. M. Ridenour, of the School of Public Health, who is also the University's Radiological Safety Officer, A. H. Emmons, Associate Radiological Safety Officer, J. V. Nehemias, and many others.

The final plan for the laboratory resulted in a three-story building of reinforced concrete, brick, and glass about 180 feet long, 57 feet wide, 27 feet above grade on the west side and 40 feet above grade on the east side. A greenhouse of a unique inverted-V roof design extends about 40 feet south from the southwest corner of the main building to which the greenhouse is connected by corridor.

The first floor, as can be seen from the dimensions, is below grade on the west side. At the north end of the building, this "below-grade" area extends to the west, providing a large underground room. All the heavy radiation work is housed on the lower floor, particularly at the north end in the below-grade area.

From the south end of the lower floor, a visitor passes, on the right-hand side, the following rooms: (a) A clothes change area in which regular street attire may be exchanged for special protective clothing if needed. In a health physics monitoring station both personnel and clothing are checked for radioactive contamination on return to the clothes change area. (b) A radiation measurements laboratory in which equipment is available for highly accurate measurement of radioactivity in small samples and specimens. (c) A radioactive materials handling and preparation area in which radioactive materials and specimens are prepared for easy handling and subsequent measurement. Included in this room is a walk-in type hood large enough to accommodate a small machine or a moderate-sized animal, such as a dog. (d) A radiochemistry laboratory with complete facilities for carrying out all chemical analyses and synthesis procedures using radioactive materials with activities up to several Curies.

On the left hand side, there is: (e) A service area for the heating, ventilating, and electrical equipment. (f) Extending, back into the ground beyond the building Page  1701line is a heavily shielded room in which a new type of particle accelerator is to be built. (g) A high flux gamma source housed in a special room with the walls of high density concrete 3 feet thick. The source itself, consisting of about 2,500 Curies of Cobalt-60 is housed in a 20-foot deep water tank when not in use. The source is used for studies on the effects of radiation. (h) Two large caves designed for handling up to 10,000 Curies of gamma emitters. The inside of the caves provides a work area 6 by 10 feet. The cave walls are 3 feet thick and of a high density concrete surfaced with sheet steel three-eighths of an inch thick. The walls of each cave are pierced by three windows of special high density glass permitting complete visual surveillance of the work in the caves. The actual handling of material inside the caves is carried on through manipulators, operated from the outside; these are capable of reproducing most motions and actions of the human hand.

In addition, there are special decontamination and waste cleanup facilities and special underground storage pits for radioactive materials. A 14-ton hydraulic lift brings heavy shielded casks containing radioactive materials from ground level down into the cave area or vice versa. Eventually, the north wall will be breached, and openings will provide direct access to the new Ford Nuclear Reactor now under construction.

The second floor of the building provides free access to the public and contains the memorial lobby, administrative offices, conference room, library, and shops. The library has been dedicated to George Mason, former president of American Motors, whose efforts in obtaining financial support for the project "helped transform a dream into reality."

The third floor is not finished but will eventually contain laboratories devoted to studies in the life sciences. Projected facilities to be provided when money is available include microbiology and biochemistry laboratories, an aquarium, an animal room, an operating room, hot and cold rooms, tracer level counting rooms, and a special installation for microradiation detection.

In February, 1954, the De Koning Construction Company, of Ann Arbor, was awarded the construction contract. The original budget was for $1,500,000, which included finishing the first floor completely, and the lobby on the second floor. The contract was later expanded to cover some changes and completion of the second floor installations. The new budget total is $1,626,111.17.

Although not yet quite completed, the building was occupied in July, 1955, when the Midwest Universities Research Association set up headquarters for their study group on new accelerator design and began construction of a model, capable of accelerating electrons to two million electron volt velocities, of a new proposed twenty-five billion electron volt proton accelerator. Requests for use of the building facilities have come in rapidly and will be fulfilled in keeping with the policy of open research devoted to furthering the peacetime use of atomic energy.

The new Phoenix Memorial Laboratory will provide radiation research facilities which have no equal in any nongovernment laboratory in the country. With the new Ford Research Reactor, the University will have facilities and equipment for study in all aspects of atomic energy. It is expected that the new Ford Nuclear Reactor which will complete the building will be dedicated during the spring of 1956.