STEM & History Tourism in Benton County

Benton County is one of the nation’s most acclaimed STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) destinations that includes the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the B Reactor National Historic Landmark, LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), and the REACH Museum.

The Hanford Site was part of one of the most transformative endeavors of the 20th Century, ushering in the nuclear age as part of the Manhattan Project – a massive, top secret national mobilization of scientists, engineers, technicians, and military personnel.

What began as a multifaceted effort requiring the rapid advancement of nuclear physics and multiple engineering strategies has now become a history buff’s dream. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park incorporates three of the most significant locations of the Manhattan Project, each of which played an essential role: Oak Ridge, TN; Los Alamos, NM; and Hanford, WA.

The B Reactor National Historic Landmark, part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, is the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor and is part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The U.S. Department of Energy offers free public tours of the B Reactor, as well as a virtual tour option. Due to COVID-19, the Hanford Visitor Center of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Richland is closed, and B-Reactor and Pre-War Historic Sites tours are postponed.

While nuclear science and its impact on the Tri-Cities cannot be denied, it’s also important to note that Tri-Cities isn’t just centered upon this one area of scientific discovery.

B Reactor National Historic Landmark

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) was designed to open the field of gravitational-wave astrophysics. LIGO uses two lasers nearly 2,000 miles apart—one in Hanford, Washington and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—operated in unison to detect and understand gravitational waves. LIGO is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Due to COVID-19, LIGO Hanford Observatory remains closed for all tours and drop-in visitors until further notice. Virtual visits can be requested, for groups of 15 or more, to learn about LIGO operations. LIGO Hanford Observatory hopes to open the LIGO Exploration Center (LExC)
later in Spring 2022 for visitors, public events, and field trips. LExC houses 50 hands-on, interactive exhibits related to LIGO science and engineering.

LIGO Hanford Observatory has completed construction of the LIGO Exploration Center (LExC).
Credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Laboratory (Amber Strunk)

Since opening in 2014, the REACH Museum has served as the dedicated institution for visitors and residents of the Tri-Cities to understand the natural and cultural significance of our region, specifically for Ice Age Floods, Mid-Columbia River Basin history, and the Hanford Reach National Monument. Each of the four permanent galleries can be viewed online, in addition to in person. The REACH Museum is now open for general admissions Friday through Sunday, and groups of 10+ people can visit the museum any day of the week by making a reservation.

We hope you take the opportunity to visit these incredible community assets and learn about the history of Benton County and what makes our region one of a kind.

Exterior of the REACH Museum, located in Richland, WA