Phoenix ProjectPhoenix_Project.html

THE PHOENIX PROJECT—the Manhattan Project in reverse—has been designated as the goal which will serve as a living peace memorial to the University's war dead.

The character, intellect and creative genius of the University will be marshaled into a great project in cooperative research—with special emphasis on the vast energies of atomic fission—in all branches of science for the enlightenment and enrichment of human existence.

Like the mythical Phoenix, reborn from its own ashes, the destructive technologies of modern warfare, including the limitless potentialities of atomic energy, will be exploited in the interests of better living for all man-kind.

In the memory of Michigan men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice, new knowledge will be enlarged and coordinated in a continuing research effort to the end that civilization may move forward.

These are the thoughts embodied in the report made by the War Memorial Committee to the Board of Regents last month. The Regents on May 1 approved the report and accompanying resolution, and on May 17 the announcement was made public. Exploratory plans are now under way to follow through with the project and enlist the overwhelming support of students, alumni, staff and friends of the University that is requisite to its success.

The Committee, from its inception last September, based its actions on the concept that the War Memorial should not merely be something, but should actually do something. The Committee feels—and all who have shared the results of their thinking thus far are in agreement—that the recommended project does fulfill in a most far-reaching way this difficult requirement.

Favorable reaction to the proposed project has already been expressed by the United States Atomic Energy Commission and the Office of Naval Re-search. These two agencies have not only given their official approval, but within the legal definitions of their abilities have promised financial assistance.

In these words the Committee presented its recommendation to the Regents:

"We have named the Memorial the Phoenix Project because the whole concept is one of giving birth to a new enlightenment, a conversion of ashes into life and beauty. The Phoenix Project, as we visualize it, would consist of an academy of scholars recruited from this and other universities. It is our thought that they would devote their full creative powers to the task of converting atomic energy to peace-time purposes and of utilizing it for the benefit of mankind. These men would carry on their researches in a group of laboratories and work-rooms which would be entered through a memorial rotunda or similar structure would in itself be a constant re-minder that the University had effectually recognized the aims for which its students and alumni gave their lives. A functional memorial, it would explore the beneficent aspects and implications of atomic energy with the same determination and enthusiasm as the Manhattan Project explored the destructive aspects.

"This would be a perpetual operation; it would not be a 'mere mound of stone the purpose of which might soon be forgotten'. The scope of the project would not be limited to the physical and biological sciences; it would include social sciences as well. Since the relationship between man and the atom cries as loudly for attention as the atom itself, the Phoenix Project would focus at the University of Michigan activities of all sorts, which relate to the peace-time application of atomic energy. It is our suggestion that a consecutive series of operations be planned, each one of which can be carried out as soon as money is available. The first of these should be applied for through the United States Atomic Energy Commission immediately so that it might be in operation by July 1, 1948. The exhaustion of operations is inconceivable because there will be a continual growth and development of new projects out of those already begun."

The Committee offered the following resolution to the Board of Regents:

"Since this memorial is in the truest sense a living, timeless creative force for the peace which was so dearly won, and since it is based upon the assumption that those who gave their lives would have wanted atomic energy to become the slave and not the master of mankind, the Committee enthusiastically offers as the result of its deliberations the following resolution:

"RESOLVED: that the War Memorial Committee recommend to the Board of Regents that the University create as its War Memorial a Center to explore the ways and means by which the potentialities of atomic energy may become beneficent influences in the life of man."

The Regents approved the recommendations submitted by the Committee and promptly authorized the Executive Officers of the University to organize and coordinate the planning details for advancement of the project.  It is expected that plans will be completed during the summer for securing funds to finance the Memorial. It will be an ever-growing project, probably requiring $2,000,000 or more at the beginning.

Appointed by the Regents "to study proposals for a war memorial in honor of students and alumni who fell in World War II," the Committee held numerous meetings and canvassed a great many ideas and suggestions under the Chairmanship of Erich A. Walter, '19, A.M.'21, Dean of Students. Committee members are. Robert C. Angell, '21, A.M.'22, Ph.D.'24, Chairman of the Department of Sociology; Roscoe O. Bonisteel, '121, of Ann Arbor, member of the Board of Regents. Arthur H. Derderian, of Detroit, and E. Virginia Smith of New York City, both students in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts; Arthur M. Rude, '42, of E. Jordan, Michigan, student in the Law School; William Haber, Professor of Economics; Christian Matthews, '19, '21l, of Mount Clemens, Michigan, Past-President of the Alumni Association; Marvin L. Niehuss, '25, '301, Vice-President of the University; and Mrs. Jacqueline Kolle Adams, '37, Secretary to the Dean of Students (Secretary). The three student members of the committee are all veterans of World War II.

The original suggestion which eventually became the Committee's proposal was made by Maurice Frederik Smith, a '27-'28, business executive of New York City, who stressed the concept of a constructive memorial rather than just a symbol which would "perpetuate the memory of a lot of men who are far more interested in making their work and their sacrifices count for something, than they are in being remembered."

Pointing out that "the harnessing of atomic energy is the crucial achievement of mankind" which "can eliminate civilization, or can provide the means of building a civilization that outstrips anything in any sane man's imagination," Mr. Smith recommended that the University "might take unto itself the administration and coordination of research in some specific phase of peace-time atomic re-search and construct a building to house the administrative and scientific staff necessary to do this coordinating job."

Two members of the University-faculty, Ralph A. Sawyer, Dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and Dr. Fred J. Hodges, Chairman of the Department of Roentgenology, were instrumental in aiding the Committee to bring the proposed project to the attention of the United States Atomic Energy Commission and the Office of Naval Research.

In March the Committee received a letter from Carroll L. Wilson, General Manager of the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission which stated:

"The Atomic Energy Commission has learned with interest of the proposal of the War Memorial Committee of the University of Michigan to establish on the Michigan Campus a permanent living monument to the students, alumni and faculty of the University who served the nation in World War II.

"The aim to create an institution devoted to intensive study of life mechanisms as they exist, together with research into the effects of atomic energy upon man and his living environment, is a welcome addition to the research facilities of the nation.  The Commission applauds the decision of the War Memorial Committee to further knowledge in this new field and the intent to explore the beneficial potentialities of atomic energy. From the proposed center may come an answer to some of the urgent biological problems of today. Funds of the Atomic Energy Commission for basic research, its fellowship program and its training facilities are planned to assist in development of programs of this broad type."

Last Fall the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association unanimously adopted the following resolution after Dean Walter had told the group about the Committee's objectives and progress up to that time:

RESOLUTION: It is resolved that the University of Michigan Alumni Association whole-heartedly support and assist the Committee appointed by the Board of Regents to study the advisability of adopting a War Memorial Program and recommends that such a Memorial incorporate the philosophy that it is better to commemorate the memory of those who have made the supreme sacrifice by attempting to develop a project that will aid all mankind in living in a war-free world rather than to attempt to build a mound of stone the purpose of which might soon be forgotten."

It is anticipated that the project be under active discussion next month during Reunion activities when the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association holds its next meeting, and that plans will be formulated at that time for alumni participation on a scale comparable with the scope of the project itself.

The Phoenix, a fabulous, sacred bird of the Egyptians, figures in the mythology of many ancient people, but the best known story is the one in which the Phoenix is an Arabian bird which subsists on air for 500 years. At the end of that period, it covers its wings with spices and flies west to the temple of the sun.  It enters the temple and is burned to ashes on the altar.

Next day the young Phoenix rises from the ashes, and by the third day is full grown. It salutes the priest and flies away, not to return for another 500 years.

The original symbolism of the Phoenix was tied in with the sun worship of the Egyptians, who regarded the sun as rising in Arabia, the land where the magic Phoenix lived, and moving westward. The bird became identified with the leg-ends of other nations, however, and has for many centuries symbolized the creation of the new from the ashes of the old.


May 22, 1948, page 373

The Michigan Memorial Program - The Phoenix Project

Atomic Research For Peace