On June 3, 2015, the Atomic Heritage Foundation continued our commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Manhattan Project with a daylong symposium. Video from the symposium is now available on AHF’s YouTube channel.
Approximately 300 attendees heard from top National Park Service and Department of Energy officials about the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Manhattan Project veterans and experts discussed innovations, women and the project, espionage, and the leadership of General Leslie R. Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer.
The Manhattan Project Park
Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb and a member of AHF’s Board of Directors, gave opening remarks. He explained the importance of preserving historic sites. Manhattan Project sites, he argued, “are among the world’s most significant places, where work was done that changed the human world forever.”
Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who helped pass the legislation that created the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, spoke next and promised that “these sites will really give visitors from across the country and around the world a much deeper understanding” of the Manhattan Project.
Two top officials from the National Park Service and the Department of Energy, Patrick Gregerson and Jamie Shimek, followed Senator Heinrich. They discussed the timeline for the park and also fielded questions from the audience about how the complex history of the Manhattan Project might be interpreted. They assured attendees that both departments are committed to a “balanced and inclusive interpretation” of Manhattan Project sites and their history.
Alex Wellerstein, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology, led a panel on the Manhattan Project as a crucible for innovation. He reported that Manhattan Project scientists filed “over 5,600 different inventions relating to the atomic bomb, with some 2,100 separate patent applications ready to filed – in secret.” Manhattan Project scientists and engineers Dr. Benjamin Bederson, James Schoke, and Dr. Norman Brown shared their experiences.
Manhattan Project veterans Rosemary Lane and Dr. Isabella Karle reminisced about the role of women on the Manhattan Project. Lane, who was head nurse at the emergency room at Oak Ridge Hospital, remembered receiving as many as 1,000 patients in one day in a city that was growing “by leaps and bounds.” “There were no roads, there were no sidewalks. It was just lots and lots of mud, but it was a lot of fun,” she recalled.
On the “Espionage” panel, Robert S. Norris, author of Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man, discussed the intelligence revolution initiated by General Leslie R. Groves that took security measures to unprecedented heights. But spies still slipped through the cracks. Bederson and Schoke discussed their encounters with Soviet spies, including Klaus Fuchs, Ted Hall, David Greenglass, and George Koval. Schoke, who travelled to different Manhattan Project sites to train physicists how to use radiation detection equipment, remembered having lunch with Koval on a trip to Dayton, Ohio. “He was a nice guy!” recalled Schoke, “I never once suspected him to be a spy.”
Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, co-authors of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, joined Norris to discuss the leadership of General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer “always had to be the best at things that interested him,” Sherwin described. “He was just consumed by making sure this thing got done as quickly as possible.” Oppenheimer’s grandson Charles and Groves’ granddaughter Carolyn Groves Lewis also participated in the discussion.
General Frank G. Klotz, the Department of Energy’s Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), concluded the symposium by emphasizing the importance of the Manhattan Project in shaping the ongoing efforts at the NNSA today.
Please note that due to the acoustics in the auditorium, you may need to turn up the volume on your computer to hear the different sessions. The panel on the women of the Manhattan Project is not available on YouTube, but can be watched on C-SPAN’s website.
Thanks again to the Manhattan Project veterans and their families, experts, and sponsors who made the 70th anniversary events possible!