Science and Technology News

Thursday, November 11, 2010

World War II ‘Scientific Manpower’

K-rations, better night vision binoculars, and synthetic rubber are just a few examples of innovations resulted from scientific research during World War II.  The story of science during World War II is one of partnerships and prolific research. On June 28, 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8807which established the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) “for the purpose of assuring adequate provision for research on scientific and medical problems relating to national defense.”  In essence, the OSRD brought together the armed services, civilians, government agencies and industry to prioritize defense-related scientific research. It is important to note that the formation of OSRD happened before the U.S. officially entered the War on December 8, 1941.

Time was of the essence– research needed to be funded and completed at a rapid rate.  OSRD mobilized scientific manpower within the country and worked closely with the armed services and allies to identify improvements and inventions needed for national defense. It recruited and funded scientists from educational institutions, research laboratories and a number of industries to help with the war effort. The focus was on weapons, devices, and medicine that could be immediately used in the field by our troops and allies. Under OSRD contracts, these engineers, industrialists, and scientists undertook a wide array of scientific investigations and produced thousands of studies and reports.

The Library’s Technical Reports and Standards (TRS) Unit houses the treasure trove of scientific and technical information generated by OSRD.  There are over 40,000 hard copy reports, 400 reels of microfilm, and 68 bound volumes of the Summary of Technical Reports.  I randomly took an OSRD box off the shelf and peaked inside. What I found were the studies and reports on diet from Dr. Ancel Keys. Dr. Keys is best known for formulating K-rations (meals for soldiers) and for research on cholesterol. Have you heard of the Mediterranean Diet?  Dr. Keys was initiallyresponsible for promoting this low fat diet in the 1940’s.  Here in my hands were his early investigations on health and diet!

There are many more stories of scientific development in this collection, such as the story of RADAR or the mass production of penicillin. It is also the story of civilians, government, and business working together for a common purpose — the national defense. On this Veteran’s Day we honor and remember our soldiers, scientists and civilians who serve and sacrifice for the common good.

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