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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Richard Yalman’s Interview

Richard Yalman was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment and worked on polonium separation at the top-secret laboratories in Dayton, Ohio during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Yalman discusses his undergraduate work at Harvard University and how he came to be involved on the Manhattan Project. He elaborates on the degree of secrecy within the project location, stressing the separation of the four units at Dayton and how no one talked about their work. Yalman also describes his personal life, the scientists he worked with, how he met his wife, and his work after the war.

James A. Schoke’s Interview (2014)

James A. Schoke was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment at the University of Chicago during the Manhattan Project. He worked for the instrument group, inventing instruments to detect uranium and alpha emitters and travelled around the country to train scientists to use and maintain his instruments. In this interview, Schoke discusses his encounter with George Koval, a health physicist and Soviet Spy who infiltrated the Manhattan Project’s top secret facility in Dayton, Ohio. Schoke recalls meeting with Koval several times at Dayton to help train him on instruments that were used to detect radiation at laboratory facilities.

Mary Lou Curtis’s Interview

Mary Lou Curtis joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 and worked at the top-secret polonium production laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. Curtis developed new methods for counting and measuring polonium, which had only recently been discovered. In fact, it was Curtis who measured the polonium that went into the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. She also discusses the difficulties of being one of the few women scientists to work at the laboratory.

Mound Laboratory Panel Discussion

In this panel discussion, former Mound Laboratory employees discuss their experience working for Monsanto on the highly classified initiator program for nuclear weapons.

Max Gittler’s Interview

Max Gittler was working on his degree in mechanical engineering at NYU when he was drafted into the Army during World War II. He was sent to Oak Ridge, where he enjoyed the social activities, especially bowling. He and three other soldiers had the job of driving radioactive material from Oak Ridge to other Manhattan Project sites around the country, including Dayton, Chicago, Santa Fe (they were not allowed into Los Alamos), and the University of California-Berkeley. Although the radioactive material was encased in a small lead pot, it weighed nearly three thousand pounds. Gittler and the soldiers had to take turns driving in the truck with the material, so they would not be exposed to the radiation for too long.

George Mahfouz’s Interview

George Mahfouz became involved in the Manhattan Project first in Decatur, Illinois building gaseous diffusion tubes for the K-25 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Later, Mr. Mahfouz was involved in the Dayton Project, working on the process to make the trigger for the atomic bomb.