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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Raymond Sheline’s Lecture

Raymond Sheline was a chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos. Sheline received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1949 and was a professor at Florida State University for 48 years. Among other accomplishments, he helped establish a nuclear chemistry lab at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and published more than 400 scientific papers. In this lecture, Sheline discusses how he initially joined the Manhattan Project, his work on gaseous diffusion at Columbia University under Nobel Prize winner Harold Urey and how he became a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. He also delves into the history of nuclear physics, providing an overview of key discoveries and personalities including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller.

Harris Mayer’s Interview

Harris Mayer is an American physicist. A student of both Edward Teller and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, he worked at Columbia University during the Manhattan Project. He moved to Los Alamos in 1947 to work at the Los Alamos laboratory, and his early work contributed to the development of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Mayer discusses his close friendships with other scientists and his work on the Operation Greenhouse nuclear tests. He shares stories about Teller, Frederick Reines, and Richard Feynman, and recalls attempting to mediate the conflict between Teller and Hans Bethe.

William Ginell’s Interview

William Ginell is a physical chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview he describes how he became interested in chemistry and his experiences working at Columbia University and Oak Ridge, TN on the gaseous diffusion process. He reflects on the Army, living conditions, and the intense secrecy and security during the project. He also discusses his life after the war, especially his work at Brookhaven, Atomics International, and Douglas Aircraft.

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.”

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.

Ruth Kerr Jakoby’s Interview

Ruth Kerr Jakoby is the daughter of mineralogist Paul Francis Kerr, who took part in the Manhattan Project and later advised the Atomic Energy Commission. In this interview, Kerr Jakoby recalls her memories of her father’s trips to Africa to find uranium for the Manhattan Project. She also remembers her interest in the Rosenberg trial.

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.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 2

Laura Fermi discusses the family’s decision to leave Italy in 1938 in the wake of the government’s support for anti-Semitic laws. The program describes Enrico winning the Nobel Prize for Physics. Herb Anderson, Fermi’s associate at Columbia University in New York, remembers Fermi’s arrival to the city and move to Chicago to work in the Chicago Met Lab. Fermi explains how scientists agreed to keep the Manhattan Project secret. The interviewees also recall working on the Chicago Pile-1. Anderson, George Weil, and others also describe Fermi’s most distinctive qualities: his energy, willingness to collaborate, and informal approach.

Alfred Nier’s Interview – Part 1

Dr. Alfred Nier was an American physicist well-known for his work on spectrometry. Nier designed the mass spectrometers used for Manhattan Project experiments and his instruments were sent to all of the major Project sites. With his mass spectrometer, Nier helped prove that that U-235 was fissile, not the more abundant isotope U-238. Nier worked for the Kellex Corporation to design and construct the apparatuses used to monitor the separation of Uranium-235 and Uranium-238, as well as leak detectors for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. In this interview, Nier describes in detail his instrumentation at the University of Minnesota and his work leading up to the Manhattan Project.

Nancy Bartlit’s Interview (2013)

Nancy Bartlit is the former president of the Los Alamos Historical Society and co-author of Silent Voices of World War II: When Sons of the Land of Enchantment Met Sons of the Land of the Rising Sun. Her father worked on the Manhattan Project in New York City, Oak Ridge, and Canada. Bartlit talks about how her experiences teaching at a girls’ school in Japan and living in Los Alamos influenced her work as a historian. She discusses Japan’s surrender, the internment of Japanese Americans, Navajo Code Talkers, and how Japan remembers the bombings today.