The team responsible for producing the replica of the FERMIAC gathers at a ceremony marking the donation of the replica to the Bradbury Science Museum. Pictured are, from left, Tom Archuleta, Todd Urbatsch, Jeff Griego, John Oertel, Ray Leeper and Frank Lopez. Not pictured is Ben Peterson. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
John Oertel, left, and Todd Urbatsch use the FERMIAC to make calculations Tuesday at the Bradbury Science Museum. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Wendy Stohmeyer, collection specialist at the Bradbury Science Museum discusses the original FERMIAC which is on display in the supercomputing area. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Jeff Griego a member of the FERMIAC replica team, shows his grandson, Jayden Cisneros the replica following a ceremony Tuesday at the Bradbury Science Museum. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
The Calia-Bogan family from Madison, Conn., just happened to be visiting the Bradbury Science Museum Tuesday during a ceremony marking the donation of the FERMIAC replica and stopped to chat with Frank Lopez, far left, and Jeff Griego, second from left who are members of the FERMIAC replica team. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Andy Liao, left, and Jeff Urbatsch of the RadFlow Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Office of Experimental Sciences make some calculations Tuesday at the Bradbury Science Museum using the replica of the FERMIAC which had just been presented to the museum. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
John Oertel, leader of the Los Alamos National Laboratory fabrication team that created the replica of the FERMIAC, presents it to Tuesday to Linda Deck, executive director of the Bradbury Science Museum. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Office of Experimental Sciences donated a replica of one of its own artifacts, the FERMIAC, Tuesday afternoon to the Bradbury Science Museum. The original FERMIAC is on display in the supercomputing exhibit at the museum.
The replica was handed over by John Oertel, leader of the LANL fabrication team that created it, to Linda Deck, executive director of the museum.
The FERMIAC is a mechanical computer from the late 1940s, invented by renowned Manhattan Project physicist Enrico Fermi, which was used to run “Monte Carlo” simulations of neutron transport paths inside nuclear reactors.
With the addition of the FERMIAC replica to the museum, scientists, students, historians and the public will be able to use the replica to trace the path pursued by Fermi.
The original FERMIAC was found at in 1966 as described in the October edition of the “Atom”, the magazine of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. See https://lib-www.lanl.gov/cgi-bin/getfile?00819959.pdf.
Museum collections specialist Wendy Strohmeyer said the original FERMIAC was accepted in 1966 and put on display in the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory Museum which was “across the bridge” at the time.
When the LANL team set out to produce the replica, they had only a blueprint to work from. Part of the project from the outset was to build a drawing package so that there would be a documentation process that would allow someone else to make a replica. Jeff Griego did most if not all the drawings and Tom Archuleta did the assembly. Shops inside and outside the Laboratory made the parts.
The team described Tuesday how they tried to make the replica exactly the same as the original, even using a mismatch of pieces and building any original mistakes into it. Team leader John Oertel said it was really cool to actually touch something Fermi had actually thought of and Percy King had actually built because he knew King’s son.
“People can use the device, feel the heft, and ultimately figure out how the FERMIAC was used in the 1940s,” Todd Urbatsch, leader of the Radflow Project said. “It gives a historical perspective of the time when computing was in its infancy and insight into the genius of Enrico Fermi.”
Urbatsch said the replica could also help to unlock mysteries of the FERMIAC and potentially aid current research.
“We have a general idea of how it works but even with the recipe provided in 1966 by its fabricator, L.D.P. King, we suspect that we are missing some subtleties,” he said. “Understanding those subtleties could have an unexpected effect on current numerical methods research.”
The FERMIAC is some 13 inches in length, was made mostly from brass and resembles a trolley car. It was not automated but used as a tool. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Jayden Cisneros, left, and Evan Strohmeyer watch Todd Urbatsch set up the FERMIAC replica Tuesday at the Bradbury Science Museum. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com