Pupin was designated a national landmark in 1965 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, because of the important research taken place there. The cyclotron that performed the first-ever fission experiment was designed and built by John Dunning, Dean of the Engineering School from 1950-1969. On January 22, 1939, a uranium atom was split and thus began the Manhattan Project, leading to the construction of the atom bomb. The project was ultimately moved to the University of Chicago to prevent the Germans from coming up the Hudson River and bombing Pupin. Also the weight of the apparatus was so great that the floor was in danger of collapsing. In 1965, the cyclotron was taken to the Smithsonian Institute.
Columbia's faculty and alumni have a long and illustrious history of contributions to the world of science including well over 45 Nobel Laureates, more than any other University. The laser and FM radio were invented in Pupin. Most recently, researchers at Columbia developed the heat resistant ceramic tiles which shielded the Space Shuttle. The original space shuttle was named "Columbia" partially in recognition of their contributions.
Atop Pupin is the Rutherford Observatory, named in honor of Lewis Morris Rutherford, distinguished astronomer and trustee of Columbia College from 1 858 to 1 884.
To the right of Pupin was the Pegram Nuclear Physics Laboratory, now replaced by Schapiro Hall. It was named after George B. Pegram, vice president of Columbia University and Dean of the School of Mines, Engineering and Chemistry from 1918 to 1930. Dr. Pegram's quiet experiments helped to set in motion the nuclear age and he was the individual responsible for assembling at Columbia the group of scientists (the Manhattan Project) whose work led to the atomic bomb. He brought Italian nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi and Dr. John Dunning to the University to help carry out the first successful demonstration of uranium fission.