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View Diary: The Mad Logophile: Olde Slang (72 comments)

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  •  SCRAM (5+ / 0-)

    I have read that that originated at U Chicago during the first ever criticality experiments


    10-10-2000, 11:38 AM
    Sorry about being ambiguous. I want to know whether SCRAM, as used in the nuclear industry, was indeed coined as an acronym of "Safety Control Rod Axe Man" by the people working on the Chicago pile in the '40s. The standard story goes like this:

    The first nuclear reactor was built under a squash court at the University of Chicago by Enrico Fermi et al in (I forget what year exactly). [So far this is verifiably true] As a safety measure, they had a special control rod that was suspended out of the core by a rope; this control rod, if inserted, would bring the reactor subcritical. There was a person with an axe (usu. said to be a grad student) standing by the rope ready to cut it in an emergency. This person was called the Saety Control Rod Axe Man, and the signal to cut the rope was the word SCRAM.

    The part about the control rod on a rope is at least plausible, but the acronym sounds contrived. What I specifically would like to know is 1) was the setup at the Chicago pile as described? 2) did they in fact use the word scram? 3) if so, did they choose it based on this acronym, or did somebody invent the acronym after the fact? If scram was a pre-existing word, its use in the nuclear industry could still be consistent with the story, but I doubt the above story is entirely accurate.

    we are but temporary visitors on this planet. The microbes own this place <- Me

    by yuriwho on Sun Mar 20, 2011 at 05:57:48 PM PDT

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