The 75th Commemoration of CP-1: The First Self-Sustaining Controlled Nuclear Chain Reaction

On December 2, 1942, Enrico Fermi led an experiment on the University of Chicago campus that provided scientific proof that a nuclear chain reaction could be initiated, sustained, and controlled, known as Chicago Pile-1. The implications of this accomplishment were and continue to be far-reaching. Scientifically, the experiment catapulted forward the fields of nuclear physics and engineering, paved the way for such new fields as radiation biology, and played a central role in launching the era of “big science” and national laboratories. Commercially, the experiment laid the basis for the nuclear energy industry. More controversially, the experiment was an integral part of the development of nuclear fission weapons, which, through the Manhattan Project, were first manufactured in the US and then deployed in a theater of wars.

In commemoration of 75 years since this historic event, UChicago will host a Symposium on December 2, 2017, as it did in 1982 for the 40th Commemorative Symposium.

CP-1 Competition for Commissioned Scores

To observe this event, the CP-1 committee has initiated a competition for commissioned scores. A University faculty committee will review submissions. From all applicants three composers will be selected and commissioned to create new work for this event: a 5- to 7-minute-long work that engages, in whatever way the composer deems appropriate, with the history, science, or cultural impact of the CP-1 project.

Professional musicians will present the three commissioned compositions on December 2,  2017, at the 75th Chicago Pile-1 Commemoration Symposium to include talks and performances about the impact that this initial experiment has had on science, energy, and war. A University faculty committee will judge the compositions and award the first place winner $1000. The runners-up will receive $500 each.

Applicants must be a current PhD candidate or an alumnus/alumna from the University of Chicago Department of Music (Composition).


  • April 14, 2017, 5-6:30 PM - Faculty/Student Conversation about the history of the CP-1 experiment, nuclear energy, and its cultural impact. Those interested in developing a proposal for the commission are strongly encouraged to attend. UChicagoGRAD (UChicago Bookstore, 3rd Floor)
  • April 24, 2017 - Deadline for applications to be submitted. Send all application materials to Julie Marie Lemon, Program Director, Arts, Science & Culture Initiative at
  • May 21, 2017 - Announcement of the results of the competition
  • September 29, 2017 - Deadline for winners to submit completed composition with full score and all performing parts
  • December 2, 2017 - Performance at Logan Center


1. For Initial Applicants - a complete application must include:

  • Application cover letter including name, email, cell phone, and website (if available)
  • Brief composor biography
  • Links to digital recordings of three recent scores

Send all application materials to Julie Marie Lemon, Program Director, Arts, Science & Culture Initiative at

Please note: The selection of the three composers who will be commissioned to create new work will be based on the three scores that have been submitted with the application. In case you need to share large files through a file hosting service (e.g. dropbox, wetransfer, etc.) please make sure the link remains active until the selection process. There will be no application fee.

2. For the Selected Composers:

  • The composition must be related to the theme of the CP-1 Symposium, at the composer's discretion.
  • To assist with the process of composing their scores, selected composers agree to convene with physics and social science students in two roundtable discussions.
  • The duration of the composition will be no more than 5-7 minutes.
  • The deadline for receipt of the completed composition with full score and all performing parts in September 29, 2017.
  • The selected composers will be present for the performance on December 2, 2017, and will be available to rehearse with professional musicians prior to the performance.
  • Rehearsal sessions will be arranged under the guidance of the Department of Music.
  • The selected composers agree to provide a short biography and publicity photo for use in the CP-1 Symposium program and other promotional media.

Please note: Prior to the December 2nd performance, one of compositions will be chosen as the first prize winner by the faculty committee, and the other two will be eligible for second prize.