Elmer Ellis

Elmer Ellis

It was over 50 years ago when University of Missouri President Elmer Ellis displayed a powerful vision.

Ellis appointed a committee to evaluate how a research reactor might stimulate greater scientific research at this land-grant institution. Today this might seem a pedestrian thought, but in the late 1950’s it was a most novel idea—a nuclear reactor at a university!

Today this novel idea is the 10-megawatt (MW) internationally recognized University of Missouri Research Reactor, or MURR, the most intense neutron source of the approximately 27 other research reactors located on university campuses. Even worldwide, there are few facilities that can compare.

Huber O. Croft, dean of the College of Engineering back at the inception, was the man who made the suggestion that became Ellis’ full blown idea. No doubt they were responding to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, created at the close of World War II to stimulate peacetime scientific research on nuclear energy for electric power generation – and on its products for industrial and medical application.

The committee that President Ellis appointed spent many months surveying faculty at the University as well as at the Missouri School of Mines in Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) for their input and insight.

Together they estimated costs and possibilities, met with federal and state agencies, and compiled a study document that was in overwhelming support of such an innovative undertaking.

In a February 3, 1959 press release, Ellis said, “New vistas of a nuclear age have touched every field of science, from agriculture to medicine, from geology to zoology, and from engineering to veterinary science, in addition to the important discoveries being made in chemistry and physics. All those fields are a part of the University of Missouri’s educational responsibilities to our youth and to all our citizens. We have to move forward with the nuclear age, lest we fall hopelessly behind.”

Others outside the University shared Ellis’ vision. In June 1959, Missouri Governor James T. Blair signed an appropriations bill to fund the project after it had been passed by the Legislature, for an amount later supplemented under Governor John M. Dalton’s tenure, the man who succeeded Blair as Missouri’s governor.

The Atomic Energy Commission issued a construction permit for the University’s reactor on November 21, 1961. Ellis and his team continued to show vision in hiring a director who chose a flexible reactor design that has allowed expansion and upgrades to accommodate increasing research needs and technological advancements.

Ardath Emmons

Ardath Emmons

That was Ardath Emmons, at the time supervisor at the Ford nuclear reactor and Phoenix Memorial Lab at the University of Michigan, who was brought in to direct the new project.

With state allocations totaling $3.4 million, construction on MURR was completed and the reactor was in operation by the fall of 1966. President Ellis’ forecast was on the mark.

Built on a former polo field, nestled against a tree-covered limestone ridge in what is now the University of Missouri’s research park, MURR’s flux-trap-type reactor has been highly regarded as a primary research source almost since its birth.

MURR currently supports the research of hundreds of faculty and students each year in dozens of disciplines and provides products and services that directly benefit the citizens of Missouri, as well as others in universities, industries and agencies worldwide. It is an outstanding university research reactor in its breadth of programs, steady source of neutrons for research and industrial applications and safe and reliable operations.

Originally licensed to operate at 5 MW in its inaugural year of 1966, the reactor was upgraded to 10 MW in 1974. Its total-time/integrated power running schedule and enviable operating record have made this reactor not only the largest and most unique facility of its kind in the United States, but one of the best and most reliable sources for students, scientists, engineers and industry representatives worldwide.

Elmer Ellis may not have known just how global his vision was, but hindsight confirms it. The State of Missouri mined a jewel in the University of Missouri Research Reactor.