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The ORAU Story

Research and education efforts span more than seven decades

What began as an idea in a casual conversation eventually resulted in an organization that has connected hundreds of thousands of students and faculty with federal research facilities across the country for more than 60 years.

While at a dinner party in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1945, University of Tennessee (UT) physics professor Dr. William G. Pollard and a fellow professor Dr. Katherine Way were discussing the merits of linking the valuable scientific resources developed in Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan Project with regional universities. The schools did not have access to such high-tech equipment. Rather than just talking about it, Pollard decided to make something happen.

Following much travel back and forth between Washington, D.C., Knoxville, and the universities, Pollard was successful in working out an agreement. On October 17, 1946, the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies (ORINS) received a charter of incorporation from the state of Tennessee. With 14 southern schools as its charter members, the consortium of ORINS began to work toward Pollard's vision.

E.A. Waters, dean of the University of Tennessee graduate school, and the first three ORAU (then ORINS) employees: Barbara McClannahan, J.W. Mumford, and William J. Pollard, Director. This photo was taken in 1947 outside the 2714-G building, the first permanent base of operations for ORAU (then ORINS).

With Pollard at the helm, education was naturally at the heart of ORINS’ early initiatives. The Graduate Training Program was the first in a legacy of student research participation programs that still offer graduate students the opportunity to carry out thesis or dissertation research at the federal government’s laboratories. Similarly, ORINS initiated a Research Participation Program, which brought university faculty members to the federal facilities as well.

For those researchers employed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and living in Oak Ridge, ORINS teamed with the University of Tennessee (UT) in 1947 to offer the Oak Ridge Resident Graduate Program, which provided masters and doctoral courses in chemistry, math, and physics; ORINS provided the Oak Ridge facilities, equipment, and supplies while UT provided the faculty.

Early in ORINS’ history, however, medical research also became an important focus. In 1948, the Atomic Energy Commission tasked the organization with establishing a clinical research program to study the use of radioactive materials in treating and diagnosing diseases. ORINS set up a cancer research hospital and accepted its first patient in 1950.

Until the hospital closed in the mid 1970s, numerous patients came to the ORINS hospital, hoping to find a cure in the new treatments offered by the newly discovered powers of radiation. The Medical Division that formed around the hospital became a nationwide resource for physicians seeking knowledge in the growing field of nuclear medicine.

Building on the knowledge gained through research and continuing with its work in education, ORINS, through its Medical Division and Special Training Programs, taught courses in radioisotopes and established resident training programs. Since those initial courses in the late 1940s, thousands of participants from around the world have benefited from these programs.

In 1966, ORINS became Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). While the name changed, the focus did not. ORAU, now with 121 doctoral-granting institutions and 25 associate members in the consortium, has never lost sight of its early mission in education, training, and medical research. Instead, it has expanded to encompass new areas, such as national security, emergency preparedness, and environmental monitoring.

ORAU continues to provide that important link between academia and federal research facilities, benefiting not only those directly involved but also the nation as a whole. ORAU is proud of its history and will continue to seek effective partnerships that will lead to innovative solutions to the problems facing a changing world.