Benjamin Bederson, a New York native, was selected to serve in the Special Engineering Detachment during the Manhattan Project. A physicist, he was first sent to Oak Ridge, and then to Los Alamos, where he worked for Donald Hornig on designing the ignition switches for the implosion bomb. At Los Alamos, he knew Ted Hall and David Greenglass, who were secretly sending atomic bomb secrets to the USSR. Bederson instructed the 509th Composite Group at Wendover and was sent to Tinian to help wire the switches for the bomb.
Santa Fe, NM
Ruth Howes is professor emerita of physics and astronomy at Ball State University and former chair of the physics department at Marquette University with an interest in the history of women physicists.
She has extensively researched and written on the role of female scientists in the Manhattan Project. Howes is the co-author of Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project. Published in 1999 by Temple University Press, the book tells the “hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.”
Robert I. (“Bob”) Howes Jr. is an American physicist. He was a young child when his father, Robert Ingersoll Howes, was recruited to work as a scientist on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. In this interview, Howes shares snapshots of daily life in the Los Alamos community from the perspective of a child. He also describes some of the interaction between the Manhattan Project and local Pueblo communities and recalls the misadventures of the family dog.
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. This is Santa Fe, New Mexico, Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Julie Melton. My first question for Julie is to say her name and spell it.
Julie Melton: I’ve been widowed twice, so I’ve had a lot of last names, but my maiden name was Hawkins. My father was at Los Alamos. Now my name is Melton, Julie Melton. Just to make it complicated, I’ve written books on democratization in the developing world, and I used my pen name Fisher for that. So it does get complicated.
Julie Melton is an author and expert on civil society, development, and democratization. She is the daughter of Manhattan Project historian David Hawkins and Frances Hawkins, the founder of the nursery school at Los Alamos. During the Manhattan Project, her family lived in the same four-family as Victor and Ellen Weisskopf, who became some of their closest friends. In this interview, she shares her childhood memories of Los Alamos and anecdotes about prominent Manhattan Project scientists.
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.
Louis Hempelmann: He [J. Robert Oppenheimer] just told me what the situation was. He did not ask me, which is the same thing when he got sick because I was in the radiology department here and I knew something about it. He would call me up, tell me what he had done, and then say “What do you think of it?” By that time, the only thing I could say was, “That was fine.”
Martin Sherwin: Martin Sherwin, I am about to interview Dr. Hempelmann at Strong Memorial Hospital.
You know, simply from all of the Los Alamos records, but who told me you were at Strong? That was, I think, Dorothy McKibbin.
Louis Hempelmann: Oh yeah.
Sherwin: No, she confirmed it. She said you were coming out to Santa Fe.
Cindy Kelly: My name is Cindy Kelly with the Atomic Heritage Foundation. It is January 8, 2016, and I am in New York City with Peter Lax. My first question for him is to say his name and spell it.
Peter Lax: Peter Lax, spelled L-A-X.
Kelly: Great, thank you. So I would love to have you talk, just a little bit anyway, about your childhood and your parents.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Peter Lax fled Nazi persecution and came to America with his family at the age of 15. Drafted into the Army when he was 18, he joined other émigré scientists and mathematicians in Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lax discusses his work as a member of the Manhattan Project’s Special Engineer Detachment and his mathematical contributions to the challenges of neutron transport, fluid dynamics, and shockwaves.