The Science Club

colorized image from found glass negative, 3000x, fission source

From the 1940's to the 1970's the United States conducted thousands of human radiation experiments. The experiments were conducted primarily on poor people, minorities, pregnant women, soldiers, and children. Most of the subjects were not asked for their consent, nor were they informed about the nature of the experiments. In 1993, a reporter from the Albuquerque Tribune, Eileen Welsome published a series of stories about these experiments. Within a matter of weeks, Hazel O'Leary, Clinton's first DOE appointee made full disclosures of the government's studies, much to the fury of the nuclear establishment. Eileen Welsome's book, "The Plutonium Files" was published in 1999. The chapter in her book that struck me most profoundly was about studies that were done in a state institution in Massachusetts for retarded and "incorrigible" children. To encourage the children to participate, the scientists from M.I.T. called the studies "The Science Club".

The project that I am working on started with some glass negatives that I found at "The Black Hole", a surplus store in Los Alamos, New Mexico that sells cast-offs from the national laboratory. They are photographic miscroscope images, ranging in magnification from 1000 to 60,000x. I recognized them as tissue, it turns out they are mostly mammalian collegen, connective tissue. What I did KNOW is that they have the worst resonance of anything I had ever touched. They just felt "Bad". I let them sit in my studio for a couple years and sort of "offgas". They started to tell me stories.

"The Science Club" is a collection of sculptural installations, rooms describing individuals that were involved in the experiments. Each room has sculptural elements as well as audio and/or video elements.

There is a vintage bedroom, all black and gray, circa 50's-60's, with an accompanying audio component of a fictionalized, first-person narrative from a boy growing up in Los Alamos. There is a black bed with a hand-made quilt done in black and gray, with black flowers and atomic insignias.There are paint-by-number paintings of the Hiroshima bomb blast and the after effects, done in black and shades of gray.A window with vintage gray curtains blowing in the breeze opens to....blackness. The audio boy's story is emanating from a vintage black-face Hallicrafter's short-wave radio.

silk and balsa wood Enola Gay model, 53 inch wingspan, and butterfly collection from "The Boy's Room"


There is a room called "Green Run" after the test done in Hanford, Washington where a cloud of radiation was released to observe how it would settle in vegetation and....people. This room is dark, with the figure shown below on the floor, and blackened steel flowers on all walls. It has an atmospheric surround-sound audio element incorporating wind and animal sounds with a fictionalized narrative of a Hanford "downwinder".



raku-fired ceramic figure with wood leaves, stitched with nickel wire, and steel and copper flowers



There is a room containing an apparatus, a sort of time machine displaying two videos. One video tells the story of a child from The Fernald School in Massachusetts, where "incorrigible" and retarded children were fed radiation-laced milk and cereal in "The Science Club". The other video tells my own story of foreboding and discovery while researching these experiments. The apparatus resembles a magical/scientific instrument from a slightly earlier era.


There is a room telling the story of one of the pregnant women who was fed radioactive "vitamin" cocktails in a clinic in Nashville, Tennessee. The figure, cast from resin with embedded flowers is wall-mounted, surrounded with smaller cast resin figures. There is also an audio/video component.


If you or someone you know was involved with these experiments, please contact me. I am collecting stories.

If you would like to show "The Science Club", in part or whole, please contact me.

Erika Wanenmacher