The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Peter Vandervoort's Interview

Peter Vandervoort is an American astrophysicist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. In this interview, Vandervoort shares stories about the university’s role in the Manhattan Project. He describes in depth how different buildings on its campus were appropriated for the project. He later discusses his interactions with the university’s distinguished physics faculty members after the war, such as Nobel Prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who was Vandervoort’s Ph.D. advisor in the 1950s. Vandervoort also talks about the university’s community outreach efforts through the years. He concludes the interview by discussing the contributions of women to physics.

Kennette Benedict's Interview

Kennette Benedict is the Senior Advisor to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She served as the Bulletin’s Executive Director and Publisher from 2005 until her retirement in February 2015. In this interview, Benedict discusses the history of the Bulletin. She recalls the scientists and staff involved with the Bulletin over the years, and describes the role the magazine has played in providing scientists with a platform to inform the debate on nuclear policy and other global security issues.

Ruth Howes's Interview

Ruth Howes is professor emerita of physics and astronomy at Ball State University with an interest in the history of women physicists. She has 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," which tells the “hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.”

Robert Howes Jr.'s Interview

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 Pueblos and recalls the misadventures of the family dog.

Julie Melton's Interview

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 house 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. She also describes her parents’ involvement in the Communist Party at Berkeley, where her father met J. Robert Oppenheimer. She concludes with a brief reflection on the frustrations of being a woman at Los Alamos.

John Manley's Interview (1985) - Part 2

John Manley was a nuclear physicist who worked for the Manhattan Project from its early days. In this interview with Martin Sherwin, Manley recalls being impressed by George Kennan and Omar Bradley’s testimony before the Atomic Energy Commission. He also discusses the contributions to the project and personalities of General Kenneth Nichols, General Leslie Groves, and Peer de Silva. He also explains the founding of Los Alamos and and reflects on Oppenheimer’s transition into the “great administrator.”

Louis Hempelmann's Interview - Part 4

Louis Hempelmann worked as a doctor at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and was close friends with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses the other doctors at Los Alamos and their roles, including his own occasional role as anesthetist. He recalls visiting a radium dial plant in Boston to observe how the company protected its workers from radiation, and how they adopted similar practices at Los Alamos.

John Manley's Interview (1985) - Part 1

John Manley was a nuclear physicist who worked for the Manhattan Project from its early days. After the war, Manley served as the Executive Secretary of the General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and later also became Associate Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In this interview, Manley discusses how he came into these positions and reflects upon the relationship of the GAC and the AEC. He recalls Oppenheimer’s relationship with others on the GAC, including James B. Conant, and Oppenheimer’s leadership on the GAC.

Louis Hempelmann's Interview - Part 3

Louis Hempelmann was J. Robert Oppenheimer’s physician and close friend. In this interview, he discusses the hierarchy at Los Alamos, what it was like to work with Kitty Oppenheimer, and Kitty and Robert’s relationship. He recalls his interactions with Oppie, Enrico and Laura Fermi, and Edward Teller, and the parties that Oppenheimer and others used to throw at Los Alamos. Hempelmann remembers driving to Trinity Site with George Kistiakowsky and the high explosives—on Friday the 13th.

Roger Fulling's Interview (1985)

Roger Fulling was the Division Superintendent of Construction at DuPont during the Manhattan Project, which meant that he coordinated and expedited the construction projects at Hanford and Oak Ridge. He was also the main liaison with General Leslie R. Groves on the Hanford construction project. In this interview, Fulling discusses DuPont’s procurement issues and the support of American industry for the Manhattan Project. He also recalls visiting Hanford and the early days of working with General Groves. He explains the fate of Hanford's orchards and farms after the Manhattan Project requisitioned the land, and his sadness at witnessing the orchards fall into ruin.