Hobson: One thing that used to happen to particularly interesting and sensitive papers was that Kitty would take them home, and then they would get lost. Lots of things went that way, including a whole batch of interesting tapes. It was very embarrassing because we had promised [Dean] Acheson that only one copy would be made, and we made two copies and we kept them. When he found out he was quite angry.
Edwin McMillan: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start with two remarks. First, this is going to be a personal story, so if I use the first person singular, this is not pure egotism, it is simply the fact that that’s the part that I know best. Second remark is, the difficulty of establishing facts at such a late date, even of important things. During the Manhattan Project, of course, there was security impressed upon everyone, so very few people kept any notes.
Edwin and Elsie McMillan were among the first people to arrive at Los Alamos. Edwin, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was involved in the initial selection of Los Alamos. In this lecture, Edwin describes visiting Jemez Springs and Los Alamos when he, Oppenheimer, and General Groves were deciding on the site for the weapons laboratory. McMillan also discusses his involvement in the implosion research, the gun program, and recruiting scientists including Richard Feynman to the project.
Harold Cherniss: Well, you see, I was married on January 1, 1929, in White Plains. When we went back to Berkeley, it was immediately after that that I met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer. This is the time in which he had come to Berkeley the autumn before, just about this time. Taught one term in Berkeley, one term at Caltech. That’s when I first met him, and I met him because my wife had known him when they were children.
Martin Sherwin: Your wife’s maiden name?
Harold Cherniss was an American Classicist. Upon his return from service in World War II, Cherniss accepted a teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley. It was here that he initially met. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, Cherniss reflects on his friendship with Oppenheimer and his experience with others who knew him. Among other subjects, he discusses Oppenheimer’s personality, intellectualism, friendships, and political leanings. He recalls Oppenheimer’s interest in literature, especially French poetry.
Owen Gingerich: This is an interview between Owen Gingerich and Robert Wilson. You use your middle initial. It’s Robert R.?
Robert Wilson: Yes, usually.
Gingerich: Robert R. Wilson, who is a builder of high energy accelerators and who was one of the physicists at Los Alamos. We are speaking today in Philadelphia, where we both happen to be for the American Philosophical Society. It’s April 22. No, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday. It’s April 23. That’s the documentation for the day.
Robert R. Wilson was an American physicist. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where he first met Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer recruited Wilson and his entire group at Princeton to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos on the cyclotron. After arriving at Los Alamos in 1944, Wilson became head of the Research Division. After the war, he became one of the few scientists to speak out against the bomb, and he helped organize the Association of Los Alamos Scientists (ALAS), which called for the international control of atomic energy.
Owen Gingerich: Professor Roy Glauber is a physicist, a physicist who had an early start in physics because when he was still an undergraduate at Harvard, it was during World War II. A mysterious caller knocked on his dormitory door, and asked him if he would want to participate in some unspecified kind of scientific war work. He ended up going to Los Alamos as one of the youngest scientists in that scientific community working to make the atomic bomb. Of course there in Los Alamos, Robert Oppenheimer was the director.
Martin Sherwin: Was there a lot of effort to trying to figure out the psychology that the people who were sitting in judgement [at J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security hearing] would have? That “They will probably be thinking this, so therefore we should do that?” Do you recall any of that?
Verna Hobson: No. I remember that after the first—they came back, I suppose, the weekend in the middle of the hearings. I think they had a few days, and then they came back, and then they went to Washington again for the rest of it.
Martin Sherwin: You must have met the Oppenheimers when Murph [her husband, Marvin Goldberger] met them?
Mildred Goldberger: No.
Goldberger: No, Murph met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer quite early on, I think. Not during the war. But he was an early invitee to the Rochester Conferences. I am sure Oppenheimer was there. In any case, they were known to one another.
Sherwin: Right, I had known that in ’48—
Goldberger: Yeah, right.