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.
Jim Eckles worked for decades for the White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs Office, managing open houses and tours of the Trinity site, where the world’s first nuclear test took place. In this interview, Eckles describes the history of Trinity site. He discusses the ranchers who lived on it before the Manhattan Project took over, the buildings used by the scientists, and what it was like to live on the site before and during the war. He provides an overview of the Trinity Test and the “Gadget,” 100 ton TNT test, and the making of “Jumbo.” Eckles also discusses some of the key workers at Trinity site, including scientists, technicians, photographers, and MPs. He also explains some of the controversy around the site, including radiation levels, concerns over fallout from the test, and the atomic bombings of Japan.
Dr. Jon Hunner is a Professor of History at New Mexico State University, the author of “Inventing Los Alamos” and “J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War and the Atomic West,” and a former director of the New Mexico History Museum. In this interview, Hunner provides an overview of life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, including its takeover of the Los Alamos Ranch School and its relationship with Hispanos and Pueblos in the area. He talks about how Manhattan Project scientists and their family members would arrive in Santa Fe, and the sites in Santa Fe that are linked to the project. Hunner also discusses J. Robert Oppenheimer and his family, and Oppenheimer’s security hearing that revoked his security clearance. He describes the devastating effects of the atomic bombs on the Japanese who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and discusses his thoughts on the influence of the atomic bombs on Japan’s decision to surrender.
John Attanas worked as a chemical engineer and supervisor for the E.I. DuPont Company during World War II. In his interview, he describes living and working on the Manhattan Project at both the Oak Ridge, TN and Hanford, WA sites. He recalls witnessing the Trinity Test and DuPont’s attention to radiation safety, as well as working for the Air Force and General Electric after the war. He shares anecdotes about his parents, family, childhood and interests in chemical engineering. He also reflects on his interactions with Jewish refugees in Manhattan, the Bataan Death March, and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Felix DePaula was an Army private stationed at the Trinity Site and Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. After the war, DePaula stayed at Los Alamos, and worked for the Zia Company there. In this interview, DePaula talks about life at Trinity Site, especially the isolation and the entertainment he and his fellow soldiers would come up with to pass the time. He describes the rodeos the military police would help set up. DePaula also witnessed the Trinity test, and talks about the feeling among the troops after seeing the detonation. He also recalls the high security at the gates to Los Alamos.
W. Stanley Hall was eighteen years old when he was recruited to work as a machinist on the cyclotron, first at Princeton University and later at the Los Alamos Laboratory. He worked at Los Alamos as a civilian, then later was drafted and worked as part of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, he describes both his work and recreational experiences during the Manhattan Project. He witnessed the Trinity Test from a location ten miles away. Hall describes hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” play over the radio at the moment of the Trinity Test and the color and the noise of the explosion. Hall also talks about taking advantage of the hiking, fishing, and horseback riding opportunities around him, including some trouble he encountered walking Kitty Oppenheimer’s horse. He provides an overview of his forty-year-long career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked for the computing group.
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.”
Louis Hempelmann worked as a doctor at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and was close friends with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses the other doctors at Los Alamos and their roles, including his own occasional role as anesthetist. He recalls visiting a radium dial plant in Boston to observe how the company protected its workers from radiation, and how they adopted similar practices at Los Alamos.
Louis Hempelmann was J. Robert Oppenheimer’s physician and close friend. In this interview, he discusses the hierarchy at Los Alamos, what it was like to work with Kitty Oppenheimer, and Kitty and Robert’s relationship. He recalls his interactions with Oppie, Enrico and Laura Fermi, and Edward Teller, and the parties that Oppenheimer and others used to throw at Los Alamos. Hempelmann remembers driving to Trinity Site with George Kistiakowsky and the high explosives—on Friday the 13th.
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.