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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Phillip Broughton’s Interview

Phillip Broughton is a health physicist and Deputy Laser Safety Officer at the University of California, Berkeley. In this interview, he describes how he became a health physicist and the kind of work he does at Berkeley. He provides an overview of the buildings at Berkeley where Manhattan Project scientists worked during the war, and discusses some of the key scientists such as Glenn Seaborg. Broughton also recounts experiences from the year he spent working at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where in addition to serving as the science cryogenics handler, he also became the Station’s bartender.

Margaret Norman’s Interview

Margaret Norman is the eldest daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ernest O. Lawrence. In this interview, Norman describes her father’s childhood, including the importance of her father’s Norwegian heritage and values, and how her parents met. She recalls what it was like to grow up as the eldest daughter of six children, and how Ernest passed his values on to them. She describes visiting the laboratory at Berkeley where her father worked, and finding out about the atomic bombs and Ernest’s involvement. Margaret also recalls her father’s friendship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and other scientists, and explains that he could never really relax because he was always thinking about science.

The Element Hunters: The Discovery of Mendelevium

Using footage found in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, former Director of Operations and Development at the 88-Inch Cyclotron Claude Lyneis put together a video describing the discovery of element 101, mendelevium. Narrated by Lyneis, the video shows the tools and techniques used in the discovery of heavy elements after the war, and provides a brief history of the search for mendelevium. This dramatically indicates the speed and skill necessary to perform these groundbreaking experiments. The discovery of mendelevium involved a team from the Rad Lab including Glenn Seaborg and Albert Ghiorso. Seaborg and Ghiorso helped discover over a dozen elements in addition to mendelevium, helping to further our understanding of the nature of matter.

Roger Hildebrand’s Interview

Roger Hildebrand is an American physicist and the S.K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, at the University of Chicago. His involvement with the Manhattan Project began with a tap on the shoulder by Ernest Lawrence, who convinced Hildebrand to shift from being a chemist to a physicist. He worked with cyclotrons and mass spectrometers at Berkeley before transferring to the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge. In this interview, Hildebrand shares his memories of Lawrence, Enrico Fermi, Samuel Allison, and other Manhattan Project scientists. He recalls his postwar work at the University of Chicago, and the pressure he felt after being asked to be a substitute in one of Fermi’s classes.

Louis Hempelmann’s Interview – Part 4

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’s Interview – Part 3

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.

Elsie McMillan’s Lecture

Elsie McMillan was the wife of Nobel Prize winner Edwin McMillan and sister-in-law of another Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Lawrence. She came to Los Alamos in 1943 with Edwin and their baby Ann. In this speech, she takes the audience on an imaginary tour of Los Alamos, complete with detailed descriptions of various buildings and their home, today known as the Hans Bethe House. Her speech characterizes what civilian life was like at Los Alamos for the wives of many scientists, including the challenges of shopping with ration cards and dealing with the tight security. She fondly recalls Pascualita, a Pueblo woman who helped her around her home and invited the McMillans to her home in the Pueblo. Elsie dramatically recalls the tension of the Trinity Test, waiting to find out whether the test was a success and that all the scientists were uninjured.

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.

Harold Cherniss’s Interview – Part 1

Harold Cherniss was an American classicist. He initially met J. Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley in 1929, and they reconnected after the war in Berkeley and later at the Institute for Advanced Study. In this interview, Cherniss reflects on his friendship with Oppenheimer and his experience with others who knew him. Among other subjects, he discusses Oppenheimer’s personality, intellectualism, friendships, and political leanings. He recalls Oppenheimer’s interest in literature, especially French poetry. Cherniss explains how and why Oppenheimer became interested in studying Sanskrit – because Oppie loved a challenge.

Geoffrey Chew’s Interview

Geoffrey Chew was an undergraduate studying physics at George Washington University when he assisted Washington Post journalist (and future children’s novelist) Jean Craighead in writing an article on atomic weapons. His professor, George Gamow, recommended that Chew join Edward Teller’s team at Los Alamos. At Los Alamos, Chew witnessed the Trinity Test from a nearby mountain and worked on Teller’s ideas for developing the hydrogen bomb. In graduate school, Chew was supervised by Enrico Fermi. In this interview, Chew recounts his unique entrance to the Manhattan Project and his relationship with Edward Teller. He also recalls an incident when Fermi had trouble playing a game at a party, his conversation with an intelligence man on the Craighead article, and serving as John von Neumann’s “human computer.” Finally, Chew discusses his current research on the Big Bang.