790F5B34 D582 4FB2 931C 643EB3D03A41 e1513466669522 - Exploring Science and Energy in Oakridge, TN

Exploring Science and Energy in Oakridge, TN

This post is written by my mom since the museum doesn’t allow dogs, even semi-famous ones like me.

This is what we love about visiting smaller towns: there is almost always something really surprising. Oakridge, TN, population 30,000, is no exception.

Situated just 25 miles northwest of Knoxville, Oakridge is a very young town (just 75 years old!). We decided to spend a day here because a friend, who used to work for the Department of Energy, recommended the little-known American Museum of Science & Energy (AMSE).

A Secret City

Oakridge was created in 1942 as part of the top secret Manhattan Project, which produced the world’s first atomic weapons. In 1942, there were only 3,000 people living in the 59,000 acres the U.S. Government had decided would be the ideal place to create an atomic weapon. Those 59,000 acres met the military’s criteria for a site that would be working on top-secret projects: was isolated, was located near dams and rivers for electric power, had an accessible labor force and was near highways and railroads.

Oakridge is a small town 25 miles west of Knoxville. Photo by Michael.

So, the Government took the land, built three plants (each with a different method to produce fissionable material) and created a fenced, highly-secure city ten miles in length and two miles wide.

Flat-top house
Flat-top houses were easy to build and could be constructed quickly, which is why they were a popular housing choice when the Government built Oakridge. Photo by David Wilson.

The city housed 75,000 people and created the material for atomic weapons. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and World War II came to an end. In 1949, four years after the end of World War II, Oakridge, the once-secret-city, opened to the public.

Museum About Science and Energy

The American Museum of Science & Energy is one of three sites in the of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The park park is managed in a unique partnership between the Department of Energy and the National Park Service.

First Floor Mostly For Adults

X-10 is a Graphite Reactor that was built in just 10 months as part of the Manhattan Project. It converted uranium-238 into a new element, plutonium-239.

The first floor is more like a traditional museum with static exhibits and wall displays. We learned the history of why the Government chose Oakridge and how the people who were displaced fought the Government for as long as they could.

Its hard to imagine those times… and the urgency our Government felt in developing atomic power (Germany and Japan were pursuing atomic weapons too). To acquire nearly 60,000 acres, build a small, fully-secured city and three unique fission facilities in just a year is an amazing feat.

Second Floor Fun

American Museum of Science & Energy
The second floor of the museum is a wonderland of lights, sounds and colors!

Climb the stairs to the second floor and you’ll find colorful, interactive exhibits about the atom, nuclear medicine, and the scientists who made atomic power possible.

There are endless things to see and do in the AMSE. The giant blue ball with lights zipping around inside of it is an exhibit about the Atom.

There are several exhibits about the scientists who played a role in the development of atomic weaponry, and later, nuclear medicine.

Atomic Pioneers
Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein are just a few of the scientists featured in the Atomic Pioneers exhibit at AMSE.

Of course, when you learn about atoms, protons and neutrons, you learn about static electricity! The museum provides a fun demonstration about electricity: it was hair-raising!

static electricity
AMSE offers several demonstrations throughout the day. We participated in one about static electricity. It was shocking!

AMSE has a ton of interactive exhibits for children and curious adults. Jay enjoyed the robotic exhibit.

robot toy
Even big kids like to play with robots!

Even the bathrooms are fun!

toilet paper
Everything about AMSE is educational, even the bathrooms!

For the price of admission ($5/adult, half off with military discount), the AMSE museum in Oakridge, TN is a 5-Woof experience!

Places to Stay

We dry camped at the Oakridge Walmart which is just a few blocks (walking distance!) from the museum. We received management approval and had no issues.

Please Leave a Comment

Scroll down to leave a comment about any interesting and fun museums you’ve been to! We’re always on the lookout for fun places to visit!

Woof Out!

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Can’t wait to see what you say! Woof!