Jim Sanborn is an American sculptor known for works such as “Kryptos” at the CIA Headquarters in McLean, VA. In this interview, Sanborn discusses his exhibit “Critical Assembly,” which is now on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. The installation recreates the Manhattan Project scientists’ experiments at Los Alamos to determine when plutonium would go “critical” in an atomic bomb. Sanborn explains why he decided to do the project, and how he carefully created each piece of the exhibit. He describes some of the artifacts in the exhibit, including the physics package of the Trinity device and an oscilloscope, and where he found some of the materials and artifacts he used. Sanborn also discusses the Slotin accident, the urchin initiator, and other key scientific and engineering devices from the Manhattan Project.
James L. Smith is a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). In this interview, Smith recalls his more than forty-year career at LANL. He describes some of the history of the Manhattan Project and LANL’s innovative work during the war through today, including work on the human genome, computing, and radiation detection. He emphasizes the importance of having multidisciplinary national laboratories to produce pioneering innovations and scientific discoveries. Smith also recalls his friendship with Edward Teller, who he was assigned to teach about superconductivity, and other Manhattan Project scientists including Nicholas Metropolis. He discusses Teller’s relationship with Oppenheimer and other scientists.
Frances Quintana grew up in El Rancho, NM, and her family’s farm at Los Alamos was requisitioned when the Manhattan Project took over the site. Frances became one of the many Hispanos who were bused up to work at Los Alamos. Her first job was baby-sitting Julie Hawkins, the daughter of David and Frances Hawkins. She maintained a close relationship with the family, and with Julie through today. In this interview, Frances discusses her various jobs at Los Alamos, both during and after the war, such as baby-sitting for the Oppenheimers and McMillans, as well as being a confidential mail-sorter and administrative assistant to lawyers. She also discusses her relationship with famous figures at Los Alamos like Edith Warner and Dorothy McKibbin.
Lydia Martinez grew up in El Rancho, NM, and began to work at Los Alamos when she was seventeen years old during the Manhattan Project. She worked in various jobs during the war and after it became the Los Alamos National Laboratory, including as babysitter, secretary, and technician. In this interview, she describes her forty-two years of employment of being a technician, maid, secretary and other positions. She also affectionately describes the Gordons, whom she babysat for, and other various figures of the Manhattan Project including the Tellers.
Virginia Montoya Archuleta is the youngest daughter of Adolfo and Elaisa Montoya. Her father Adolfo was the head gardener at the Los Alamos Ranch School. In this interview, she describes her father’s work at the school and her memories of living in Los Alamos. She also shares information about her family’s connection to Santa Cruz de la Cañada. Finally, she discusses her family’s role in a lawsuit seeking compensation for homesteaders displaced by the Manhattan Project.
Esequiel Salazar worked at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project as a carpenter and a rod-man assisting surveyors for the Robert E. McKee Company. After the war, Salazar deployed as a soldier to occupied Japan and had a long career with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Combined, he and his wife contributed 100 years of service to the Los Alamos laboratory. In this interview, Salazar highlights the essential work of Hispano workers and other laboratory employees during and after the Manhattan Project. He touches on the politics surrounding contractors and labor during Los Alamos’s early years, and shares his thoughts on the Trinity Test and bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also discusses his sons’ work at LANL and Sandia National Laboratories.
Using footage found in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, former Director of Operations and Development at the 88-Inch Cyclotron Claude Lyneis put together a video describing the discovery of element 101, mendelevium. Narrated by Lyneis, the video shows the tools and techniques used in the discovery of heavy elements after the war, and provides a brief history of the search for mendelevium. This dramatically indicates the speed and skill necessary to perform these groundbreaking experiments. The discovery of mendelevium involved a team from the Rad Lab including Glenn Seaborg and Albert Ghiorso. Seaborg and Ghiorso helped discover over a dozen elements in addition to mendelevium, helping to further our understanding of the nature of matter.
Jim Walther is the director of the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. He begins this interview by discussing his working relationship with Jim Sanborn, the sculptor behind the renowned exhibits “Atomic Time” and “Critical Assembly.” He continues with a discussion of health physics, the history of nuclear reactors, and other innovations from the Manhattan Project. Walther also talks about the portrayal of nuclear issues in popular culture. He concludes by asserting the importance of studying the Manhattan Project and other nuclear issues.
Rosario Martinez Fiorillo grew up in northern New Mexico during the Manhattan Project. Her ancestors were Hispano homesteaders who built the Romero Cabin, an important pre-Manhattan Project structure at Los Alamos. In this interview, she reflects on her experiences living in the village of Guachupangue, and recalls an Army convoy passing by her house before the Trinity Test. She describes the history of the Romero Cabin and how her grandparents were evicted by the U.S. government for the Manhattan Project. Martinez Fiorillo explains why she decided not to work at Los Alamos, and concludes by talking about her life as a bilingual education teacher in California and New Mexico.
John Coster-Mullen is a photographer, truck driver, and nuclear archeologist. He has played a crucial role in establishing a public, permanent record of the creation of the bomb, and was featured in “The New Yorker.” In this interview, Coster-Mullen discusses the origins of his project and roadblocks he has encountered along the way, and addresses concerns that his work has revealed classified information. He shares a number of turning point moments and recounts important conversations with Manhattan Project veterans and government officials. He also talks about his time visiting Japan and Tinian Island. Finally, he describes some of the nuclear artifacts he has acquired over the years.