Office of Scientific Research and Development

The Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) was an agency of the United States federal government created to coordinate scientific research for military purposes during World War II. Arrangements were made for its creation during May 1941, and it was created formally by Executive Order 8807 on June 28, 1941. It superseded the work of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), was given almost unlimited access to funding and resources, and was directed by Vannevar Bush, who reported only to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Office of Scientific Research and Development
Agency overview
FormedJune 28, 1941 (1941-06-28)
DissolvedDecember 1947
Superseding agency
  • related extant agencies: NSF, DoE
JurisdictionUnited States Government
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Agency executive
Parent agencyOffice for Emergency Management
Child agencies

The research was widely varied, and included projects devoted to new and more accurate bombs, reliable detonators, work on the proximity fuze, guided missiles, radar and early-warning systems, lighter and more accurate hand weapons, more effective medical treatments, more versatile vehicles, and, most secret of all, the S-1 Section, which later became the Manhattan Project and developed the first atomic weapons.

Human experimentation

From October 1943 to October 1946, OSRD used conscientious objectors from Civilian Public Service as subjects for research of malaria, altitude pressure, life raft rations, high altitude, frostbite, psycho-acoustics, poison gas, ingestion of and exposure to sea water, temperature extremes, climate, physiological hygiene, thiamine, bed rest and aero medicine.

To study the effects of diet and nutrition, Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene placed 32 conscientious objectors on a controlled diet. For three months they were given a normal 3,200 calorie diet. This was followed by six months of an 1800 calorie diet, fewer calories than provided by the famine diet experienced by the civilian population in wartime Europe. The research documented the men's ability to maintain physical output and the psychological effects such as introversion, lethargy, irritability and severe depression. The study then studied the men's recovery as they returned to a normal diet and regained the weight lost during the experimentation. The men indicated later they would not have volunteered for this project had they known how rigorous it would be.

The OSRD was discontinued during December 1947.

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