This is a 1946 photo of the Chicago pile team with Leona Woods, the sole woman on the team.
Leona Woods (1919-1986) was an American physicist who helped build the first nuclear reactor and the first atomic bomb.
At age 23, she was the youngest and only female member of the team which built and experimented with the world’s first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1 (part of the Manhattan Project), in a project led by her mentor Enrico Fermi. In particular, Woods was instrumental in the construction and then utilization of geiger counters for analysis during experimentation. She was the only woman present when the reactor went critical.
After the war, she became a fellow at Fermi’s Institute for Nuclear Studies. She later worked at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and New York University, where she became a professor in 1962. Her research involved high-energy physics, astrophysics and cosmology. She later became a professor at the University of Colorado, and a staff member at RAND Corporation. In later life she became interested in ecological and environmental issues, and she devised a method of using the isotope ratios in tree rings to study climate change. She was a strong advocate of food irradiation as a means of killing harmful bacteria.
She also graduated from high school at age 14, and received her BS in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1938, at the age of 19.
When asked years later about her involvement with the Manhattan Project, she said: “I have no regrets. I think we did right, and we couldn’t have done it differently. Yeah. I know it has been suggested the second bomb, Nagasaki, was not necessary. The guys who cry on shoulders, when you are in a war, to the death, I don’t think you stand around and ask, “Is it right?”