Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project

Remaking Nuclear Research

In the wake of World War II, nuclear research faced an uncertain future. The University of Michigan Energy Institute building is wrapped in two symbols — atomic energy and Earth — to call attention to U-M’s groundbreaking contribution to peacetime nuclear research.

Following World War II, Americans had witnessed the destructive power of atomic bombs but still believed in the great potential of nuclear energy. Much of the information that had been discovered about atomic energy during the war was classified and was only available to those who had security clearance; the U.S. government had itself only just begun to explore peacetime uses for atomic energy.

U-M students, many who had just returned from the war, asked the university to create a project that would aid mankind in living in a war-free world. The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project was created in 1948 as a “living memorial” for the 579 members of the U-M community who gave their lives in World War II. Its primary mission was to engage in research that supports the peaceful uses of atomic energy. From 1957 until its decommissioning in 2003, the Ford Nuclear Reactor — the first nuclear reactor to be constructed on a university campus — served as the centerpiece of this initiative. The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Laboratory serves as the headquarters of the Energy Institute, and along with the newly renovated Nuclear Engineering Laboratory, is the home of nuclear and other interdisciplinary energy research.

Looking Ahead

“The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, the antecedent of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, is a wonderful example of moving past the destructive consequences of war to create scientific advances to benefit humankind. The University of Michigan Energy Institute is proud of our work toward a cleaner energy future, inspired by the legacy of the Phoenix Project. We hope that our efforts will serve to honor all who have made the ultimate sacrifice to make this a better world.”

Mark Barteau
DTE Energy Professor of Advanced Energy Research, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Chemistry, and Director of the Energy Institute

Media Gallery

Exhibit Highlights

Related Bicentennial Events

Atomic Highways and Byways
U-M Institute for the Humanities

Related Links

To learn more about the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project and the Energy Institute: