Philippe Halban is a European biologist. His father, Hans Halban, was an eminent physicist who conducted nuclear research with Frédéric Joliot-Curie in France in the years leading to World War II and then in England and Canada as part of the Anglo-French nuclear effort. In this interview, Philippe provides an account of his father’s life, including Halban’s family, education, and love of science. He discusses his father’s relationships with fellow scientists, including Francis Perrin, Lew Kowarski, and Joliot-Curie. He also describes how his father and Kowarski fled France for England in June 1940 with France’s supply of heavy water to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.
Elspeth Bobbs grew up in England. During World War II, she relocated to Santa Fe. There she became friends with Joseph Rotblat, a Polish-born physicist who was part of the British Mission at Los Alamos. Bobbs recalls her friendship with Rotblat, his personality, and how pleased she was to learn that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonproliferation work in 1995. She also describes her love of Santa Fe and gardening.
Joseph Rotblat was a British-naturalized Polish physicist, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and founder of the Pugwash Conferences. Rotblat and his friend James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, conducted early research on the atomic bomb in England, and both joined the British Mission at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project. Rotblat left the Manhattan Project on grounds of conscience in late 1944 when it became clear Germany was not close to developing an atomic bomb—the only scientist to leave the project for moral reasons. In this interview, he discusses his personal and professional relationships with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and the Chadwick family. He also provides insight into the intense security measures in place at Los Alamos, as well as the nature of British involvement at the site. Perhaps most intriguing is Roblat’s discussion of his decision to leave Los Alamos, spurred on by his growing concern that the nuclear weapons being created were also meant for the Soviet Union, and his anxiety over a postwar arms race. In a lighter vein, Rotblat also recalls his work as a technical advisor on the 1980 miniseries “Oppenheimer.”
Sir Rudolf Peierls was a German-born physicist. He worked with Wolfgang Pauli in Switzerland, and moved to England when Hitler rose to power in 1933. In March 1940, Peierls and fellow colleague Otto Frisch co-authored the Frisch-Peierls memorandum, the first technical exposition of a practical atomic weapon. Peierls joined the British Mission and worked on the Manhattan Project in New York and Los Alamos. In this interview, Peierls discusses his work in atomic research and how the Frisch-Peierls memorandum was developed. He recalls going sailing with Oppenheimer, and how the scientists at Los Alamos respected Oppenheimer’s leadership.
Lew Kowarski was a Russian-born French physicist who worked as part of the team that discovered that neutrons were emitted in the fission of uranium-235 in the late 1930s, setting the groundwork for the use of nuclear chain reactions in the design of the atomic bomb. After the Second World War, Kowarski went on to supervise the first French nuclear reactors and became a staff member in the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in 1953. In this interview Kowarski recounts his experience secretly transporting the French supply of heavy water to England to keep it out of Nazi hands. He also discusses his time working in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University with James Chadwick and other esteemed physicist. He also explains the Manhattan Project from a European perspective, including the increasing secrecy of the project.
In this interview, Anthony French discusses how impressive the Manhattan Project was and what made it decidedly different from the British wartime atomic efforts. French talks about his relationships with other members of the British mission, namely Klaus Fuchs and Egon Bretscher. Finally, he shares his opinions on dropping the atomic bombs on Japan and nuclear proliferation during the Cold War.
Eileen Doxford was a lab assistant at P6, an early site for the British Tube Alloys Project. After answering a radio announcement from the United Kingdom’s government science agency, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, she traveled to the M.S. Factory Valley in Rhydymwyn, Flintshire, Wales to assist engineers attempting to develop a process for the separation of uranium isotopes. She worked at P6 from 1943 until just before it was closed in 1945. She reflects on the secrecy surrounding her work, the separation of P6 operations from the other wartime production activities of the factory, and rationing and life in the United Kingdom during the war.
Myfanwy Pritchard-Roberts worked in Rhydymwyn, Wales as a laboratory assistant in the Tube Alloys program, the British mission to create the nuclear bomb. In this interview Roberts not only explores life within Great Britain’s secret city, but also touches on what it was like to live during World War II. She discusses rationing and the tensions it created with the people she worked and lived with, as well as the experience of being away from her family for an extended amount of time. Roberts also recounts the overalls she had to wear to work each day, as well as her assignments and the other people she encountered within the laboratories.
Lew Kowarski was a Russian-born French physicist who worked as part of the team that discovered that neutrons were emitted in the fission of uranium-235 in the 1930s, setting the groundwork for the use of nuclear chain reactions in the design of the atomic bomb. After the Second World War, Kowarski went on to supervise the first French nuclear reactors and became a staff member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in 1953. In this interview Kowarski discusses his upbringing in Russia, and the beginnings of his scientific career under Frédéric Joliot-Curie. He also outlines the process through which the splitting of uranium atoms was realized.