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Donaldson (Lauren R.) Collection of Northern Pacific Ocean Radiological Surveys, 1946-1964

Operation Crossroads, Test Baker as seen from Bikini Atoll, July 25, 1946
Operation Crossroads, Test Baker
as seen from Bikini Atoll, July 25, 1946

This collection is a sampling of personal logs, photo albums, ephemera, and papers from the radiological surveys undertaken after atmospheric nuclear weapons testing conducted by the United States in the Northern Pacific Ocean between 1946 and 1964.

The radiation research projects were administered by the University of Washington Applied Fisheries Laboratory. The selected material presented here in digital format represents the 1946, 1947, 1949, and 1964 surveys that took place primarily in Bikini and other atolls in the Marshall Islands. Most of the selections consist of scientific documentation. However, some material reflects the scientists' social life on the islands as demonstrated in such publications as the local newsletter "Bikini Backtalk" and leisure activities at the Back'N Atom Bar.

The Applied Fisheries Laboratory (later was known as the Laboratory of Radiation Biology) was created in 1943 at the University of Washington with Dr. Lauren R. Donaldson as its first director. In 1946, when the laboratory came under the administration of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, it was charged with evaluating the hazards of radiation in and around water.

In 1946, Lauren Donaldson, his Applied Fisheries Laboratories colleague Arthur D. Welander, and Washington State Game Department biologist Clarence F. Pautzke, were selected to serve as radiation monitors for Operation Crossroads, the codename for the first atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Two nuclear bombs, known as "Able" and "Baker" were detonated above and below the ocean surface, contaminating the organs and tissues of living creatures and plants with large doses of radioactivity. Scientific teams performed sampling and analysis of specimens as part of the unofficial "Division of Radiobiology" that formed within the expedition's Radiological Safety Section. The scientists were instructed to examine the deposition of radioactive materials through biological systems, determine the effects of radiation on the islands' flora and fauna, and to assess the extent of recovery from exposure with the passage of time. A number of surveys by the UW scientific team were conducted during this period of nuclear weapons testing.

Altogether the Bikini and Eniwetok Atolls were the subject of seven separate series of atmospheric nuclear bomb tests between 1946 and 1958. The efforts of Dr. Donaldson and the Applied Fisheries Laboratory were significant in heralding the growing concern about the cumulative effects of nuclear bomb detonation in the natural environment. The consequences and lessons learned from the nuclear weapons testing in this region, however, are not easy to assess. To this day the people of Bikini remain scattered throughout the Marshall Islands and are still seeking compensation for the use of their lands as "the proving grounds" for atomic testing.

About the Database

The information for the Lauren R. Donaldson Collection was researched and prepared by the UW Libraries Special Collections Division staff, Carolynn Crews and Michelle Vallance in 2006-7. The photographs and archival materials in this collection were selected from holdings in the University Archives collections. The images were scanned from photographic prints and text in grayscale and color using a Microtek Scanmaker 9600L and saved either in .jpg format or scanned as TIFF files, manipulated in Adobe PhotoShop to achieve the best and clearest possible digital image and loaded into the Contentdm JPEG2000 software and linked with descriptive metadata. Some manipulation of the images was done to present the clearest possible digital image. The original collections reside in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division, University Archives as the Lauren R. Donaldson papers, Accession No. 2932-007 and the UW Laboratory of Radiation Biology records, Accession No. 00-065.

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