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Broadening Horizons: 40 Years of Change

September 22, 2009

On October 17, 2009, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History opened a new exhibit, Broadening Horizons: 40 Years of Change. The exhibit demonstrates the Museum’s unique past. Rare or never-before-seen artifacts such as the Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) devices, and the “Anger Camera” (the first gamma camera developed by Hal Anger in 1957), are now on display. With 40 years of growth, change, challenge and triumph, this exhibit celebrates and explores the important people, places and items that shaped the Museum.

Dating from the 1950s, the SNAP devices and the Anger Camera are examples of the Museum’s expansion of its collection to more than weapons. SNAP devices are radioisotope thermoelectric generators or space reactors developed for the United States Atomic Energy Commission. They were a series of compact devices to supply power for space and terrestrial uses. (One of the devices has the distinction of being the only nuclear reactor launched into space by the United States.) The Anger Camera advanced early drug development and nuclear medical imaging. It viewed and analyzed images of the human body or the distribution of medically injected, inhaled, or ingested radio nuclides emitting gamma rays.

“The exhibit traces the people, buildings, and artifacts that have fostered this growing organization,” said Jim Walther, the Museum’s director. “This ‘trip down memory lane’ will interest Albuquerqueans, whether they have known us for some time or are new friends.”

The Museum was originally established in 1969 as the Sandia Atomic Museum and was located on Kirtland Air Force Base. The Museum’s purpose was to show the history of nuclear weapon development in addition to creating better community relations between the military and the public. In 1973, the museum changed its name to the National Atomic Museum to reflect the growing national and international audience. In addition, the National Atomic Museum was the only public museum that preserved the history of the nuclear industry.

From the 1970s to 1980s, the Museum expanded to display more than weapons by including exhibits on nuclear energy and medicine. These exhibits created a better history of nuclear technology as a whole. In 1991, the Museum was charted by Congress to serve as the nation’s repository and steward of nuclear-related historical items. It became apparent the Museum needed to expand and become more accessible to the public. While some plans were being formulated, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the Base closure that followed, prompted the Museum to make some drastic changes.

The Museum moved to Old Town as a temporary location and the quest for a new and bigger home began. After much planning, a ground-breaking ceremony at the new museum site occurred in 2006 and construction began shortly after. With a larger facility, new name and new exhibits in the works, excitement escalated as the opening date for the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History grew closer. Finally, on April 4, 2009, the Museum opened to the public in its new home.

The Museum is encouraging residents who have had memorable experiences to contribute to a blog that will feature stories about the Museum. Those who remember their first field trip to the Museum when it was located on Kirtland Air Force Base, or who experienced the Museum in its Old Town location, or who have recently visited the new location on south Eubank Boulevard, are all invited to share their impressions by contacting the Museum through this website at
Later, those views will be posted on the Museum’s blog at

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