Tour Secret WWII Lab with Manhattan Project App

"Los Alamos: The Secret City of the Manhattan Project" gives access to the once secret research site (Image credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

The efforts during World War II to develop an atomic bomb were once shrouded in secrecy, but today, the story of the so-called Manhattan Project isn't just public — you can now visit the project on your smartphone.

A new app called "Los Alamos: Secret City of the Manhattan Project" takes users back to New Mexico in the 1940s, to the facilities where scientists, government administrators and the U.S. military convened to create the most devastating weapons known to humankind. [Top 10 Greatest Explosions Ever]

"The new app provides a virtual tour of a Manhattan Project property that no longer exists," Jennifer Payne, leader of the Resource Management Team at Los Alamos' Environmental Stewardship Group, said in a statement.

Research for the Manhattan Project took place at multiple sites, but work at Los Alamos was largely responsible for building the first atomic bombs, using uranium and plutonium. This research resulted in the "Trinity device," which was detonated 220 miles (350 kilometers) south of the Los Alamos facilities, at the Trinity test site, and eventually the "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" nuclear bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, near the end of World War II.

The app allows users to move about the black-and-white film-noir grounds of facilities that have since been dismantled or simply aren't open to the public, encountering information on the science, people and history of the project. There are 137 "bread crumbs" to find with historical facts, photographs and documents, according to Travis Burkett, who led the development team for the app.

The navigation map of Los Alamos (Image credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

As users explore the map and the site's history, their "security clearance" is upgraded, opening up more places to visit. The experience culminates in a trip to the Trinity site and the test detonation that occurred on July 16, 1945.

"[The Manhattan Project] is really the reason why Los Alamos exists," said Burkett, who lives in a Los Alamos house built by the government. He notes that the game includes information about the town and people and not just the bombs, plus an augmented reality feature for visitors to the Los Alamos site of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Burkett's team previously mapped facilities at Los Alamos so that firefighters without security clearance can learn the layouts of the buildings there without administrators having to shut down activities for tours.

The app was produced by Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Bradbury Science Museum. It is currently available on iOS and is free to download and play.

"We hope everyone will use it," Burkett said. "We hope even the older generation will give it a shot."

Original article on Live Science.

Staff Writer
Greg Uyeno is a science journalist. He has studied cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley and journalism at New York University. He’s always interested in the language of science and the science of language.