The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Siegfried Hecker's Interview - Part 3

Siegfried (“Sig”) Hecker is an American scientist who served as the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997. He is currently Professor (Research) of Management Science and Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. In this interview, Hecker discusses the 1990s debate over the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and how it affected his responsibilities as Los Alamos Lab director. He analyzes the results of the treaty, which calls for zero yield from nuclear weapons and no testing, and reflects on the global impact of the treaty.

Ted Taylor's Interview - Part 3

In this interview, physicist Ted Taylor discusses how technology developments today will impact farming and energy in the future. He elaborates on his time working at Los Alamos on nuclear weapons and the hydrogen bomb, recalling Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Norris Bradbury’s emotional response to the first successful hydrogen bomb test. He recalls the social life at the laboratory and the scientists he worked with, including Darol Froman, Robert Serber, and George Gamow, and how secrecy impacted their work.

Alice Kimball Smith's Interview

Historian and educator Alice Kimball Smith moved to Los Alamos in 1943 after her husband Cyril, a British metallurgist, joined the Manhattan Project. Alice took a job as a schoolteacher at Los Alamos. She later became the assistant editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and wrote "A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists’ Movement in America, 1945-1947." She also co-edited a collection of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s letters. In this interview, Kimball Smith describes her impressions of Oppenheimer during the Manhattan Project. She discusses Oppenheimer and other atomic scientists’ efforts to ensure international control of the bomb after World War II, as well as her memories of other scientists such as Niels Bohr.

J. Samuel Walker's Interview

J. Samuel (“Sam”) Walker is the former historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the author of "Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan." In this interview, he describes the motivations behind President Truman’s decision to authorize the use of the atomic bombs. He explains the key differences between “traditionalist” and “revisionist” interpretations, and identifies weaknesses in each perspective’s argument. He also assesses the role of the Soviet declaration of war against Japan, whether the Japanese were ready to surrender before the bombs were dropped, and American plans for an invasion of mainland Japan. Walker concludes by recalling President Truman’s reaction to the human impact of the bomb.

The Search for Atomic Power

This 1954 radio program traces the development of nuclear energy from the discovery of the atomic nucleus to the launch of the USS "Nautilus," the first nuclear submarine. It includes narration, dramatizations with actors playing physicists Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr, and interviews with Arthur H. Compton and Westinghouse Electric Corporation scientists. The program celebrates Westinghouse’s role in producing uranium for the Manhattan Project and details the challenges behind powering the Nautilus.

Hanford 25th Anniversary Celebration

This program was recorded at the 25th anniversary of the construction of the B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, in Hanford, WA. Leading Manhattan Project scientists, including Glenn Seaborg, John Wheeler, Lombard Squires, and Norman Hilberry, as well as its military leaders, General Leslie R. Groves and Colonel Franklin Matthias, participated in the ceremony. They discussed the start of the Manhattan Project, how the reactor’s site was chosen, the challenges of building the reactor and the chemical separations plant, and the different processes that were considered to separate plutonium. They also recalled the relationship between the military and civilian scientists and why they became involved in the Manhattan Project to help win World War II. They philosophized on the significance of nuclear power and its potential for future projects, from agriculture to space exploration.

Raymond Grills's Interview

Dr. Raymond Grills was a DuPont physical chemist who worked at the University of Chicago Met Lab and later at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. While at Hanford, he was one of two men who invented the canning process that sealed uranium slugs for use in Hanford’s water-cooled nuclear reactors. In this interview, he describes the challenges and pressures he and his colleagues had to overcome, and explains why the canning had to be designed perfectly. He also describes humorous encounters with a machinist and a railroad porter while transporting uranium slugs.

Haakon Chevalier's Interview - Part 1

Haakon Chevalier was a French literature professor at Berkeley and close friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, Chevalier discusses aspects of Oppenheimer’s personal life, including his romantic relationships and family, hobbies including Sanskrit, and religious views. He recalls how Oppenheimer became involved in politics on the Berkeley campus. He also discusses who was present for his infamous conversation with Oppenheimer, in which Chevalier told Oppie he knew a way to pass scientific secrets to the Soviets. This conversation played a key role in Oppenheimer's security trial in 1954.

John De Wire's Interview

John De Wire was a physicist who was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. In this interview, De Wire discusses how he was recruited, the move to Los Alamos, the organization and administration at Los Alamos, and the unusual speed with which scientists could procure items. He explains how he came to work at Princeton, and his involvement after the war in opposing Lewis Strauss’s nomination for Secretary of Commerce. He recalls what made Oppenheimer such an effective leader.

Donald Ross's Interview

Donald Ross worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of California-Berkeley and the Y-12 Plant for Tennessee Eastman. In this interview, Ross discusses supervising “Calutron girls” at Y-12. He explains how the electromagnetic separation process for separating uranium isotopes work, and recalls the tight security at Oak Ridge. Ross also describes the social life at Oak Ridge, meeting his wife, and the terrible food in the mess halls. He discusses his views on dropping the bomb on Japan and how his thoughts have changed over time.

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