Seventy Years of Peril and Hope


LINUS PAULING, OREGON STATE’S MOST FAMOUS ALUMNUS, spent the latter years of his life warning the world about the humanitarian and environmental threats posed by nuclear weapons. His international activism earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. (See “Like Looking Over His Shoulder,” Terra, Summer 2008.)

Now, Pauling’s alma mater is again raising nuclear history in the public consciousness. An exhibit called The Nuclear Age: Seventy Years of Peril and Hope recently opened at OSU’s Valley Library to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

Tapping into the university’s rich collection of historical materials on nuclear science and technology (including the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers), the exhibit gives viewers a panoramic sweep across time and space. Starting with the bombs nicknamed Little Boy and Fat Man that were built in secret and dropped on Japan, the display tracks the wrenching questions of war and peace, radioactive fallout, nuclear testing, waste disposal and reactor core meltdowns on the “peril” side. On the “hope” side, it looks at promising medical technologies, energy production and scientific advances (including those under way in Oregon State’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering).

“The exhibit is designed to reflect not only the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also many other issues that have defined the nuclear age over the past seven decades,” says history professor Jacob Darwin Hamblin, who helped curate the show with a team of librarians and scholars in OSU’s Special Collections & Archives Research Center