National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, is the only congressionally chartered museum exploring this topic in the US. A Smithsonian Affiliate, it tells the story of the Atomic Age, from early research into nuclear development through to modern uses of nuclear technology.

The museum was first established in 1969. It is a place where guests can learn how nuclear science has influenced and continues to influence the world. Through a variety of permanent and changing exhibits and displays, it presents the diverse applications of nuclear science in the past, present and future. It also tells the stories of some of the pioneers in this field.

An arts background

James Walther has been the director of the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History since 1996. He tells blooloop:

“I have been in the museum business now for 44 years. I have a degree in fine arts, even though I run our nation’s nuclear science museum. My background is in visual arts. I’ve always been an artist, since I was a little boy. I’m still an artist now and I’m still actively painting landscapes.”

“Back then, when I got my college degree, there weren’t very many Master’s level programmes that helped people to move into the museum world, and, in fact, I really didn’t know very much about the museum world, other than going to museums and spending time in them occasionally as a kid. I took a job right out of college as an art teacher. I was working in outreach work, going out into the communities.

“This was in my home state, West Virginia. That state is very rural, and it’s also pretty impoverished in a lot of ways. There are lots of people who live below the poverty line and in very remote parts of this state. I was teaching fine arts to children who had never visited a museum and didn’t know very much about art. Then I became an exhibit designer, designing exhibits in science museums, before moving into administration.”

The broad field of nuclear science

In 1996, Walther moved to New Mexico to be the director of the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.

“I’ve been here now for 26 years. It’s been a wonderful time and a time of learning. In the museum field, you have to learn everything. You don’t know a lot about the things you’re doing, so you have to be committed to learning about them.”

NMNS&H Periodic Table

He has become, inevitably, very interested in nuclear science:

“It’s such a broad field, whether it’s in power generation, health physics, medicine, or in the history of the defence of the nations, or the Manhattan project. Some of that started here in New Mexico, with Los Alamos National Laboratory.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory is a short distance northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is a United States Department of Energy laboratory, initially set up during World War II for the design of nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project.

Advances in medicine

In terms of nuclear medicine, he comments:

“There has been been a huge amount of work in the multi-modalities of nuclear medical efforts. Not only in therapy but also in diagnostics. It’s a huge part of the field. Around 75,000 people every day in the US experience nuclear science through medical applications in hospitals. Diagnostic applications prevent quite a lot of invasive surgeries to find out what’s going on with someone.”