Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Edwin McMillan’s Lecture

Edwin and Elsie McMillan were among the first people to arrive at Los Alamos. Edwin, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was involved in the initial selection of Los Alamos. In this lecture, Edwin describes visiting Jemez Springs and Los Alamos when he, Oppenheimer, and General Groves were deciding on the site for the weapons laboratory. McMillan also discusses his involvement in implosion research, the gun program, and recruiting scientists including Richard Feynman to the project at Princeton University. He also remembers requisitioning Harvard’s cyclotron for the Manhattan Project.

Roy Glauber’s Interview

Roy Glauber was just eighteen years old when he was selected to leave his studies at Harvard to join the work of the Los Alamos Laboratory on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he would go on to lead a distinguished academic career, receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005. In this interview, Glauber discusses his interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos and later at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He explains why Oppenheimer was so admired by the scientists at Los Alamos and the qualities that made him an excellent director of the Los Alamos laboratory. Glauber also recalls Oppenheimer’s successes and challenges as director of the Institute for Advanced Study, his interactions with other scientists and mathematicians, and how having his security clearance revoked appeared to have broken him.

Lee DuBridge’s Interview – Part 2

Lee DuBridge is a prominent American physicist whose work at Caltech, Rochester, and MIT and the Atomic Energy Commission led to interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses how the AEC felt about testing the hydrogen bomb in context of the nuclear arms race, explaining why many members of the AEC’s General Advisory Committee were initially against moving ahead with a crash program on the hydrogen bomb. He also explains the confusion over using nuclear weapons tactically versus strategically. DuBridge recalls his efforts to support Oppenheimer during Oppie’s security hearing. Most notably, he remarks that as early as a year before the charges were brought against Oppenheimer, people were aware of trouble brewing for Oppie. DuBridge also remembers a visit he made to NATO headquarters with Oppenheimer, and how warmly Oppie was welcomed.

Robert Bacher’s Interview – Part 1

In 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer recruited American physicist Robert Bacher to join the Manhattan Project as head of the experimental physics division at Los Alamos. Bacher directed the bomb physics division at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1945, helping oversee the design of the implosion bomb, known as “Fat Man,” that was dropped on Nagasaki. In this interview, Bacher recalls the initial conference of Los Alamos laboratory leadership in 1943 and describes Oppenheimer’s relationships with Enrico Fermi and General Leslie Groves. He recounts how Oppenheimer improved as a lecturer, and remembers the excitement caused in the physics community by the development of quantum mechanics and the discovery of the neutron.

Edward Purcell’s Interview

Edward Purcell was an eminent physicist at Harvard who won the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics. He worked on microwave radiation at the MIT Rad Lab during World War II, and was involved in some of the Trinity test preparations. In this interview, he discusses his time with J. Robert Oppenheimer at Harvard University after the war, and the problems some tenured professors ran into after being accused of being communists. He also mentions Manhattan Project physicist Herbert York whom he praises for his own efforts to chronicle the same period as well as his work on the early American space program. Purcell recalls talking about Eisenhower’s election and the first successful hydrogen bomb test with Oppenheimer.

Margaret Broderick’s Interview

Margaret “Chickie” Broderick worked on the Manhattan Project as a chemist at MIT. In this interview, she describes the laboratory where she was employed and the secrecy and “tight” security that surrounded the project. She elaborates on the background check procedures required for workers. Broderick also recalls the wartime culture and environment in America, offering insight into military-civilian relations and social life during World War II.

Lee DuBridge’s Interview – Part 1

Lee DuBridge was the founding director of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and later became the president of Caltech. In this interview, he describes his relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, beginning with the summer symposiums on theoretical physics at Ann Arbor, MI in the 1930s, where Oppenheimer lectured. DuBridge recalls the symposiums’ important role in facilitating fluid exchange of ideas in the tight-knit physicist community. During the war, DuBridge was asked by Oppenheimer to troubleshoot issues at Los Alamos, because of his experience with the Rad Lab. After the war, DuBridge and Oppenheimer both served on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. DuBridge remembers Oppenheimer’s great grasp of detail, his ability to quickly absorb technical papers, and his ability as a lecturer.

David Fox’s Interview

David Fox’s father, Dr. Marvin Fox, studied physics at Columbia University under Isidor Rabi and Harold Urey. Marvin Fox worked at the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and at Columbia during the Manhattan Project. After the war, he served as Chairman of the Reactor Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he helped build the Graphite Research Reactor, the first reactor dedicated to peaceful uses of atomic energy. In this interview, David Fox describes his father’s work on the Manhattan Project and at Brookhaven, his idealism about technology, and how the onset of the Cold War affected him.

David Kaiser’s Interview

David Kaiser is the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of the award winning book “Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics,” and more recently published “How Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival.” His discussion with Atomic Heritage Foundation President, Cindy Kelly, focuses on the birth of nuclear physics and the nuclear bomb, but ranges across scientific developments in the early-to-mid 20th Century. Kelly and Kaiser also deliberate on the facets of innovation, and connect the scientific legacy of the Manhattan Project to current scientific research.

James B. Conant’s Interview

Dr. James B. Conant, a chemist and a President of Harvard, served on various committees overseeing the Manhattan Project. He was a key player in pushing the Manhattan Project forward early on. He discusses the S-1 Committee’s recommendation to President Franklin Roosevelt to pursue all possible methods of enriching uranium. Conant stresses the importance of the AAA priority rating for materials and manpower for the Manhattan Project, and argues that getting the AAA rating was one of the turning points for the project. He also explains his role as a scientific advisor for the project.