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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Inge-Juliana Sackmann Christy’s Interview

Inge-Juliana Sackmann Christy is a physicist and author. She was born in Germany in 1942 and immigrated to Canada in the 1950s. She later married physicist Robert Christy, who was an important member of the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Sackmann Christy describes details from her early life, how she met Robert Christy, the personalities of famous Caltech scientists such as Richard Feynman, and German physicists’ perspectives on the atomic bomb.

Raymond Sheline’s Interview (2009)

Raymond Sheline was a chemist at Columbia University and a member of the Special Engineer Detachment at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. After graduating from college in 1942, Sheline received a telegram from Harold Urey inviting him to join the Manhattan Project at Columbia. His group at the university focused on resolving problems caused by corrosion during the gaseous diffusion process. After being drafted into the Army, Sheline was sent to Oak Ridge and Los Alamos as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. At Los Alamos, he contributed to work on the trigger for the plutonium bomb. In this interview, Sheline discusses his early life and educational background. He describes memories from growing up in Ohio and from his time studying Chemistry at Bethany College. He also explains his time in the U.S. Army and how he came to work with the SED. Sheline then recalls how he met his wife Yvonne. Lastly, Sheline discusses his life after earning his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, including briefly working in Germany, working at the University of Chicago, how his career began at Florida State University, and his time researching in Copenhagen.

Siegfried Hecker’s Interview (2018)

Siegfried Hecker is an American nuclear scientist who served as the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997. Today, he is professor emeritus (research) in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and a senior fellow emeritus at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. In this interview, Hecker describes how his family immigrated to the United States from Austria in 1956. He then discusses his time at Los Alamos, including his scientific work and directorship, which took place as the Cold War was coming to a close. Hecker reflects on the American-Russian collaboration funded by the Nunn-Lugar Act during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as the nuclear disarmament of former Soviet republics. He also notes the challenges that American and Russian nuclear scientists face in trying to collaborate today. Hecker also discusses his work on China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and North Korea, where he made seven trips between 2004 and 2010.

Richard Rhodes’ Interview (2018)

Richard Rhodes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” “The Twilight of the Bombs,” “Dark Sun,” and “Energy: A Human History,” as well as more than twenty other books. In this interview, Rhodes expounds on the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inevitability of discovering nuclear fission, the development of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear proliferation and the Cold War arms race, and the relationship between the Soviet Union and United States. He also discusses his play “Reykjavik,” based on the 1986 meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.

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.

Bob Carter’s Interview (2018)

Robert Carter spent a year and a half as a graduate student at Purdue University before being recruited to work for the Manhattan Project. At Los Alamos, Carter’s team, which included his close friend Joan Hinton, worked on the research reactor. Eventually, Carter and Hinton came to work closely with Enrico Fermi, who became a mentor and friend to the two of them. Carter fondly recounts his dinners and hikes with Hinton and Fermi, both at Los Alamos and after. After the war, Carter enrolled in graduate courses at University of Illinois before returning to Los Alamos for fifteen years. For the rest of his career, Carter worked for various government agencies before retiring. Carter also discusses his friend Harry Daghlian and advising prominent physicist George Gamow on a project.

John Adams’s Lecture

John Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer of contemporary classical music. Known for his operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, as well as for multiple orchestral works, Adams speaks here about Doctor Atomic, his 2005 opera set at Los Alamos in the weeks leading up to the Trinity Test. He describes the creation of the work and why he was initially hesitant to develop an opera around J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. He discusses its unusual libretto, which uses only words actually spoken or written by the people depicted in the opera, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, Leo Szilard, and Edward Teller.

Benjamin Bederson’s Interview (2018)

Benjamin Bederson worked at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Wendover, and Tinian on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Bederson describes his childhood in New York and in Russia, where he witnessed the impact of the famine in Ukraine, and his relief upon returning to the United States. He discusses his wartime work, including conducting experiments relating to Jumbo and the X unit switches for the Fat Man atomic bomb. He recalls some of the friends he made, including Peter Lax and William Spindel. During his time on the Manhattan Project, he also met Soviet spies Ted Hall and David Greenglass.

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.

Victor Kumin’s Interview

Victor Kumin was a young scientist when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944. In September of that year, he was transferred to Los Alamos, where he was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, courtesy of the Story Preservation Initiative, Kumin discusses his time as a Chemistry student at Harvard and joining the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He recalls the secrecy of the project and how he felt about the decision to use the atomic bombs.