Nuclear Energy, 1967
University of Chicago campus
Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets
This 12-foot high bronze sculpture by renowned British sculptor Henry Moore (1989-1986) stands on the site where a team of scientists, led by Enrico Fermi, initiated humankind’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in an experimental reactor known as the “Chicago Pile” at 3:25pm on December 2, 1942. Moore’s form, which invites comparison to a mushroom cloud, a human skull, or protective helmet, allows viewers to contemplate the complex implications of the discovery. While many saw great potential in atomic energy, the project was inextricably linked to efforts to create an atomic bomb.
Purchased from the artist by the B. F. Ferguson Fund, the sculpture was dedicated on December 2, 1967 on the 25th anniversary of the event and was attended by Mrs. Laura Fermi, widow of Enrico Fermi. The work was based upon a 3-inch study in Moore’s studio viewed by a committee from the University of Chicago. Moore subsequently visited the site on the university’s campus before developing the full-sized sculpture. The setting was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.