Article ID: CBB839214605

First Peoples of the Atomic Age: Finding New Kinds of Data in the Biobanks of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (2020)


In this article, I explore the history of biological materials that scientists and physicians collected from those who survived the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Originally acquired beginning in 1946 to track the genetic effects of radiation in the offspring of atomic bomb survivors, these materials gradually became relevant to other kinds of biological and biomedical research. Many of the samples still held at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation are from individuals (approximately 65 percent) who are no longer alive. To scientists and others engaged with their management and use, these samples are uniquely valuable, timeless, a legacy for “all mankind.” Like materials taken from isolated populations around the world, the atomic bomb samples are both unique and universalized. They join other forms of Big Data in their seamless transition from dramatic specificity to general relevance. My paper explores what such legacies mean, and what they might teach us about the history of biology, the practices of biobanking, and the post-1945 Pacific world.This essay is part of a special issue entitled Pacific Biologies: How Humans Become Genetic, edited by Warwick Anderson and M. Susan Lindee.

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Authors & Contributors
Hoeyer, Klaus
Stephens, Martha
Goodman, Jordan
Marks, Lara V.
McElligott, Anthony
Holloway, Karla F. C.
Social Studies of Science
Diplomatic History
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Duke University Press
Yale University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Montana State University
University of Pennsylvania
Pavia University Press
Public health
Radiation sickness; radiation toxicology; Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS)
Nuclear weapons; atomic weapons
Medicine and ethics
Weinberg, Alvin Martin
Nolan, James F.
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
20th century, late
19th century
United States
Hiroshima-shi (Japan)
Nagasaki (Japan)
Hiroshima-ken Japan
Great Britain
New Mexico (U.S.)
Radiation Effects Research Foundation
Cincinnati General Hospital
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; Partial Test Ban Treaty; Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963)
Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission
Accountable Care Organizations (Medical care)

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