White Sands Middle School student, Brice Richards, 13, is hoping to make history if he wins a national competition based on the White Sands Missile Range’s history.
Richards, an 8th grade student, is developing a research paper based on J. Robert Oppenheimer, which he hopes will win the state and national Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest.
Richards is making use of the history in his own backyard and decided to focus on Oppenheimer’s role in the scientific development and detonation of the first atomic bomb, which took place on the installation. In order to gain a clearer perspective for his paper, Richards visited the April 4 Trinity Site Open House in the northern part of the installation, where Oppenheimer helped develop and witnessed the detonation of the first atomic bomb.
The theme for the paper is Leadership and Legacy. Richards said he chose Oppenheimer because he was not only a great leader but because he helped work on the atomic bomb, which played a vital role in history.
“Some people think of him as some murderer, but in my paper I call him a hero who got the atomic bomb done for the good of science. He saved more lives than were lost,” Richards said.
Richards and his father Kent spent the night in Socorro, New Mexico and were one of the first to arrive at the Stallion Gate an hour and a half before it officially opened. Richards said his visit to Trinity Site was awesome. He said he learned quite a bit about trinitite, the sand that crystalized after the atomic blast, and was also able to get a lot of facts on Oppenheimer through a local historian. Richards said he learned so much that he was even able to answer some of the public’s questions at the open house.
Richards will be vying for either a first or second place slot at the State National History Day competition at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico April 24. If Richards places first or second he will then head to the University of Maryland College Park in June to compete nationally.
Richards is a member of the VEX and BEST White Sands School Robotics Team. The BEST Robotics team has already made school history by moving forward to the State competitions. The VEX Robotics team has also made school history and will soon be competing in a world competition.
“For my 8th grade year at White Sands I want to be able to do things that no other middle schooler has done,” Richards said.
White Sands Middle School social studies teacher Wendy Graham said she has no doubt in Richards’ abilities.
“He’s exceptionally sharp. He’s always thinking outside the box,” Graham said.
This is the second year Graham encouraged her students to apply for the competition. Graham sent 16 students to the regional competitions, where Richards was one of four to be selected for the state competition. Graham said she is especially excited about Richards’ project because he is conducting his own primary source research, which is rare.
“He’s not just reporting on what he read, he’s going back to the source itself. The fact that he’s going out on location gathering his own authentic footage…it’s really the highest level of thinking.”
Richards said he chose Oppenheimer because he wanted to present a different perspective on the positive impact his creation has left and how his creation saved several lives. According to the program’s website, the purpose of the competition is to inspire students to study local history, and to challenge them to expand their thinking and apply knowledge of local events to the national, or even worldwide scene.
The competition offers 25 different prizes in a variety of categories along with the cash prizes first through third prize winners receive. The first prize winner receives a $1,000 cash prize, second received a $500 cash prize and third receives a $250 cash prize.
Richards said he would like to study engineering once he gets to college. He said he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, he just knows what field he wants to work in.