Bonhams auction house is gearing up for a big “History of Science” sale on October 22. Among the many intriguing lots is a slab of unique glass used during one of the darkest scientific pursuits we’ve ever embarked upon: The Manhattan Project. But don’t worry. It’s not radioactive.
In fact, the Manhattan Project viewing window was specifically designed to repel radiation. The 1.5m long, 15cm thick pane was once installed in the Hanford Site, a plant in southeastern Washington used to produce plutonium for the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs, among others. Those two bombs were the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war with Japan in 1945. It would be an understatement to say that this window was a witness to history.
While the context is creepy, the science behind the Manhattan Project window is sort of fascinating. The glass is actually composed of 70 per cent lead oxide so that the window would let light pass through but not radiation. The lead oxide is what gives the window its eery yellow tint and certainly contributes to its weight: 680kg. Also because of the lead oxide, the glass would not shatter when cut. It would crumble.
If relics of our violent nuclear past aren’t for you, there are plenty of other gems in the upcoming Bonhams auction. Some of our favourites include this brass and wood synthesiser from 1905, this original motherboard from an Apple I computer, and this so-called “magic lantern” from 1890. Be sure to bring a fat wallet if you decide to show up on auction day though. This stuff is expensive. The windows is expected to go for a few hundred thousand dollars at least, and the rest of the stuff is up there too. You’ll have to stick to regular windows. [Bonhams]