Argonne National Laboratory is a federally funded research and development center in Lemont, Illinois, United States. Founded in 1946, the laboratory is owned by the United States Department of Energy and administered by UChicago Argonne LLC of the University of Chicago. The facility is the largest national laboratory in the Midwest.
|February 8, 1946
|$1.1 billion (2022)
Field of research
|9700 S. Cass Avenue
|Lemont, Downers Grove Township, DuPage County, Illinois, USA
|1,700 acres (6.9 km2)
|United States Department of Energy
University of Chicago
|UChicago Argonne LLC
Maria Goeppert Mayer
Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov
Argonne had its beginnings in the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago, formed in part to carry out Enrico Fermi's work on nuclear reactors for the Manhattan Project during World War II. After the war, it was designated as the first national laboratory in the United States on July 1, 1946. In its first decades, the laboratory was a hub for peaceful use of nuclear physics; nearly all operating commercial nuclear power plants around the world have roots in Argonne research. More than 1,000 scientists conduct research at the laboratory, in the fields of energy storage and renewable energy; fundamental research in physics, chemistry, and materials science; environmental sustainability; supercomputing; and national security.
Argonne formerly ran a smaller facility called Argonne National Laboratory-West (or simply Argonne-West) in Idaho next to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. In 2005, the two Idaho-based laboratories merged to become the Idaho National Laboratory.
Argonne is a part of the expanding Illinois Technology and Research Corridor.
Argonne has five areas of focus, as stated by the laboratory in 2022, including scientific discovery in physical and life sciences; energy and climate research; global security advances to protect society; operating research facilities that support thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world; and developing the scientific and technological workforce.
Argonne began in 1942 as the Metallurgical Laboratory, part of the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago. The Met Lab built Chicago Pile-1, the world's first nuclear reactor, under the stands of the University of Chicago sports stadium. In 1943, CP-1 was reconstructed as CP-2, in the Argonne Forest, a forest preserve location outside Chicago. The laboratory facilities built here became known as Site A.
On July 1, 1946, the "Metallurgical Laboratory" was formally re-chartered as Argonne National Laboratory for "cooperative research in nucleonics." At the request of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, it began developing nuclear reactors for the nation's peaceful nuclear energy program. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the laboratory moved west to a larger location in unincorporated DuPage County and established a remote location in Idaho, called "Argonne-West," to conduct further nuclear research.
The lab's early efforts focused on developing designs and materials for producing electricity from nuclear reactions. The laboratory designed and built Chicago Pile 3 (1944), the world's first heavy-water moderated reactor, and the Experimental Breeder Reactor I (Chicago Pile 4) in Idaho, which lit a string of four light bulbs with the world's first nuclear-generated electricity in 1951. The BWR power station reactor, now the second most popular design worldwide, came from the BORAX experiments.
The knowledge gained from the Argonne experiments was the foundation for the designs of most of the commercial reactors used throughout the world for electric power generation, and inform the current evolving designs of liquid-metal reactors for future power stations.
Meanwhile, the laboratory was also helping to design the reactor for the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, which steamed for more than 513,550 nautical miles (951,090 km) and provided a basis for the United States' nuclear navy.
Not all nuclear technology went into developing reactors, however. While designing a scanner for reactor fuel elements in 1957, Argonne physicist William Nelson Beck put his own arm inside the scanner and obtained one of the first ultrasound images of the human body. Remote manipulators designed to handle radioactive materials laid the groundwork for more complex machines used to clean up contaminated areas, sealed laboratories or caves.
In addition to nuclear work, the laboratory performed basic research in physics and chemistry. In 1955, Argonne chemists co-discovered the elements einsteinium and fermium, elements 99 and 100 in the periodic table.
Argonne was chosen as the site of the 12.5 GeV Zero Gradient Synchrotron, a proton accelerator that opened in 1963. A bubble chamber allowed scientists to track the motions of subatomic particles as they zipped through the chamber; they later observed the neutrino in a hydrogen bubble chamber for the first time.
In 1964, the "Janus" reactor opened to study the effects of neutron radiation on biological life, providing research for guidelines on safe exposure levels for workers at power plants, laboratories and hospitals. Scientists at Argonne pioneered a technique to analyze the Moon's surface using alpha radiation, which launched aboard the Surveyor 5 in 1967 and later analyzed lunar samples from the Apollo 11 mission.
Nuclear engineering experiments during this time included the Experimental Boiling Water Reactor, the forerunner of many modern nuclear plants, and Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II), which was sodium-cooled, and included a fuel recycling facility. EBR-II was later modified to test other reactor designs, including a fast-neutron reactor and, in 1982, the Integral Fast Reactor concept—a revolutionary design that reprocessed its own fuel, reduced its atomic waste and withstood safety tests of the same failures that triggered the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island disasters. In 1994, however, the U.S. Congress terminated funding for the bulk of Argonne's nuclear programs.
Argonne moved to specialize in other areas, while capitalizing on its experience in physics, chemical sciences and metallurgy. In 1987, the laboratory was the first to successfully demonstrate a pioneering technique called plasma wakefield acceleration, which accelerates particles in much shorter distances than conventional accelerators. It also cultivated a strong battery research program.
Following a major push by then-director Alan Schriesheim, the laboratory was chosen as the site of the Advanced Photon Source, a major X-ray facility which was completed in 1995 and produced the brightest X-rays in the world at the time of its construction.
The laboratory continued to develop as a center for energy research, as well as a site for scientific facilities too large to be hosted at universities.
In the early 2000s, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility was founded and hosted multiple supercomputers, several of which ranked among the top 10 most powerful in the world at the time of their construction. The laboratory also built the Center for Nanoscale Materials for conducting materials research at the atomic level; and greatly expanded its battery research and quantum technology programs.
Chicago Tribune reported in March 2019 that the laboratory was constructing the world's most powerful supercomputer. Costing $500 million, it will have the processing power of 1 quintillion FLOPS. Applications will include the analysis of stars and improvements in the power grid.
Argonne builds and maintains scientific facilities that would be too expensive for a single company or university to construct and operate. These facilities are used by scientists from Argonne, private industry, academia, other national laboratories and international scientific organizations.
Argonne welcomes all members of the public age 16 or older to take guided tours of the scientific and engineering facilities and grounds. For children under 16, Argonne offers hands-on learning activities suitable for K–12 field trips and scout outings. The laboratory also hosts educational science and engineering outreach for schools in the surrounding area.
Argonne scientists and engineers take part in the training of nearly 1,000 college graduate students and post-doctoral researchers every year as part of their research and development activities.
Over the course of its history, 13 individuals have served as Argonne Director: