One year ago, I gave a presentation at the Forest Hills Centennial Symposium on the Westinghouse atom smasher and its place in Forest Hills history. I ended with some points about why the atom smasher is so great (aka a partial statement of significance). There’s no recording of the presentation, but here is a summary of my concluding remarks:
The Westinghouse atom smasher is an iconic relic from the very dawn of the atomic age. Very few such machines or artifacts remain.
The earliest research here made discoveries that contributed to humankind’s fundamental understanding of nuclear physics, paving the way for all later nuclear developments. (Also, it is all that is left to represent the entire history of the original Westinghouse Research Laboratory, which brought many important inventions to the 20th-century world.)
It (and the work done here) is a direct ancestor of some of the first major successes in peaceful nuclear power, like the Shippingport power plant and others.
While the Manhattan Project National Park— 3 major sites that contributed to the making of the atomic bomb—was established in 2015, the Forest Hills Research Lab and Atom Smasher are a rare, early example of atomic research for power generation, medical uses, and other peaceful uses. I think it’s really important for people to also know and remember Non-Bomb atomic history. (However, as the atomic bomb was one of the major events of the 20th century, the Forest Hills Lab does have some connections to that work, although it was not a main point of research here.)
And, while we’re here considering Forest Hills in the past and future, the atom smasher’s place IN this neighborhood is a telling artifact of a bygone era— I think it’s really meaningful to see it where it is. It shows a completely different mindset, literally on the brink of a new world, that is difficult to imagine today. Seeing it in place gives people a tangible connection to that era.
As you may know, Pfaffmann + Associates proposed the idea to move the Westinghouse atom smasher to the site of the new Forest Hills Municipal Building, but that proposal will depend entirely on fundraising and people willing to help. They recently posted this notice:
“Now that the Forest Hills New Municipal Building is underway, I [architect Rob Pfaffmann] am posting to remind anyone who can devote time and leadership on the future of the Atom Smasher need to step forward. We are willing to donate probono time on technical feasibility and budgeting, but if this is going to be successful we need residents, Westinghouse Alums, and others with experience in fundraising to step forward! firstname.lastname@example.org”
There will be a community meeting / design development workshop in Forest Hills on Saturday, April 2, 2016, 9:30 a.m. – 12+ p.m. about plans for the new Forest Hills municipal building. Note that there will be discussion about the atom smasher following the design meeting! Quoting from the event’s Facebook page:
Come join us to learn about the progress of the design of the new green Municipal Building! We are looking for your input and support as the design progresses towards construction this summer! BONUS: if you are interested in the Atom Smasher we hosting an after meeting to organize and recruit interest in rasing funds to reerect it at the site of the new Municpal Building.
Pfaffmann and Associates architects have proposed a state of the art facility for the new borough offices, to be located along Greensburg Pike and across from the Westinghouse Lodge. The plans include the idea of moving the historic Westinghouse atom smasher to this new site. More info about the project (schematic design drawings, updates on the community meeting, etc.) can be found on the project’s Facebook page: New Forest Hills Municipal Building.
In general I’m in favor of any plan to save the atom smasher rather than hack it up into scrap metal! It was, is, and should be a significant resource and feature of the community. The proposed location is probably as close as we could hope to its original location, basically being up at the top of the hill instead of the bottom of the hill, and still in the same neighborhood. But especially after last year’s damaging tear-down, I hope that if the atom smasher is moved, all efforts will be made to respect and retain what is left of its historical authenticity and physical integrity.