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Highlands Students to Create Manhattan Project Exhibits for New National Park

Las Vegas, N.M – Highlands University media arts students will create multimedia exhibits for the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park, with a focus on Los Alamos National Laboratory properties where scientists worked at the top-secret site atop remote Pajarito Plateau, New Mexico, to develop an atomic bomb during World War II.

The Manhattan Project Los Alamos location was an unprecedented effort where prominent scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel collaborated to design and fabricate the first nuclear weapons, according to the National Park Service.

The U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb Aug. 6, 1945, on Hiroshima, Japan, with a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan Aug. 9. Japan surrendered Aug. 14, 1945. Before that, Nazi Germany surrendered May 8, 1945.

“Our experience over many years working with the Highlands media arts students on other multimedia projects gives us great confidence that this class effort for the exhibits will be first class,” said Linda Deck, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Bradbury Science Museum. “We want the students’ fresh ideas, latest technology techniques, and cultural interpretation skills to inform these exhibits.”

Deck said the Manhattan Project National Historical Park is composed of important properties that are not open to the public yet. Congress established the park in 2015.

“We very much want people coming now to the park to understand how the properties at the park tell the story of the Manhattan Project. The media arts students’ work will help visitors have a good experience when they visit Los Alamos,” said Deck, who invited media arts to create the exhibits.

The students’ Manhattan Project exhibits at the Bradbury Science Museum are scheduled to open during the summer of 2017.

“One of the most exciting things about this Manhattan Project work is that it’s an incredible honor to be invited to create exhibits for a new national park,” said Highlands University media arts professor Miriam Langer. “It’s a fantastic, rare opportunity for our students to create exhibits for a national and international audience.”

Ten students in Highlands’ one-of-a-kind Program for Interactive Cultural Technology, or PICT, will create the Manhattan Project exhibits. Langer will co-teach the PICT class spring semester 2017 along with Kerry Loewen, Media Arts and Technology Department chair and professor.

“We will be using technology like 3-D videos and computer modeling to make it possible for the public to experience some of the Los Alamos buildings important to the Manhattan Project that aren’t accessible yet,” Langer said. “We’ll also be creating text and graphic panels for the walking tour, and an app that expands upon information in the panels.”

Langer said that with the exhibit, the media arts students will be telling a compelling global story with many points of view.

“With PICT, the students are trained to become experts in cultural interpretation and presentation. With this Manhattan Project work, they will take on some extremely complex and nuanced historical and scientific concepts. This is a different kind of national park that is based upon historical events that changed the world forever,” Langer said.

She said an important goal of the exhibit is to use what’s called inclusive design, making it possible for everyone to experience the multisensory content.

“We want to meet the highest standards of accessibility by making sure the exhibits have multiple modalities such as supplemental audio information, tactile components, and captioned video,” Langer said.

Led by Robert Oppenheimer, scientists began working at the Los Alamos site in 1942 to design and fabricate the first atomic bomb. On July 16, 1945, the plutonium nuclear warhead was tested at the Trinity Site in remote Southeastern New Mexico, approximately 75 miles southwest of Alamogordo.

According to the National Park Service, the destructive effects of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined with the Soviet invasion of Japanese-occupied Manchuria Aug. 9, 1945, led to Japan surrendering, ending World War II and further loss of life for American soldiers.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is managed through a partnership between the National Park Service and U.S. Department of Energy. The new park contains three sites: Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington.