University of Chicago marks Manhattan Project experiment anniversary with mushroom cloud

CHICAGO — A multi-colored mushroom cloud briefly appeared over the University of Chicago Saturday.

The pyrotechnic display—commemorating the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction—was the work of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. That happened here at 3:25 p.m., 75 years ago today.

The Chicago Pile-1 experiment was led by physicist Enrico Fermi as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II.

"It is humans who invented power to bring massive destruction, so when someone uses the same power to create a tiny small artwork that brings beauty, maybe that in itself brings hope," Guo-Qiang said.

This was the second day of the university’s program, which marked the anniversary with a series of panel discussions and artistic works that explored he complicated legacy of nuclear energy.

"It really is a paradox," said Bill Brown, senior advisor to the Provost for Arts at the University of Chicago. "Nuclear energy can be good and incredibly destructive."

Saturday was also the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of a sculpture by Henry Moore called "Nuclear Energy."