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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

Astro Teller’s Interview

Astro Teller, co-founder of Alphabet subsidiary “X,” is the grandson of Edward Teller, the famous physicist often considered the father of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Astro recalls how Edward loved to read him fairy tales and play bridge – though Edward played competitively with Astro’s other grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gerard Debreu. He discusses Edward’s love of answering big scientific questions, his family life, and time at Los Alamos. Astro explains that Edward missed working on science when he became more involved in politics and military matters later in life, and how Edward tried to warn the world about climate change decades ago. Astro also explores parallels between Edward’s work, the Manhattan Project, and his own work at X, and talks about the importance of applied research.

Roger Stover’s Interview

Roger Stover is a nuclear engineer and U.S. Army veteran. In this interview, Stover discusses his work conducting radiation tests during nuclear tests at Eniwetok and at the Nevada Test Site. He recalls the overwhelming experience of witnessing both hydrogen bomb tests and fission nuclear weapon tests. Stover also describes his nuclear reactor work with the Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Division in Pittsburgh, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory, and at Hanford Site. He also comments on the lasting legacies of the Manhattan Project and the future of nuclear energy. Finally, he remembers teaching physics in Pakistan for one year.

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.

James Hershberg’s Interview

Dr. James Hershberg is a leading scholar on Cold War history. In this interview, Hershberg explains in great detail the complex history of the Manhattan Project. He explores the scientific and political climate leading up to the Project, the symbolism and implications of the atomic bomb, and the feelings of various Manhattan Project scientists. He also explains the debate over developing the hydrogen bomb, different historical perspectives for explaining the Manhattan Project, James B. Conant’s recollections of witnessing the Trinity Test, and U.S./Soviet Union relations throughout the Cold War. Hershberg ends the interview by discussing how various nations have become nuclear powers, and how the Cold War and nuclear history are relevant today.

Richard Garwin’s Interview

Richard Garwin is an American physicist. In this interview he begins by discussing his work with Enrico Fermi after the Second World War. He then discusses the development of the hydrogen bomb and the role he played in its design. He also talks about his work at IBM in the 1950s, specifically IBM’s research on radar systems and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). Garwin concludes the interview with a discussion on nuclear security. He shares his views on nuclear arms reduction and how to create a nuclear-free world.

Martin J. Sherwin’s Interview

Martin J. Sherwin is a historian and professor at George Mason University, specializing in the development of atomic weapons and nuclear policy. With Kai Bird, Sherwin co-authored “American Prometheus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, Sherwin discusses Oppenheimer’s childhood, family life, and personality, including his love of the mountains of New Mexico, and his leadership at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He also discusses why Oppenheimer did not support building the hydrogen bomb. Sherwin reflects on the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arguing that the atomic bombs were not necessary to end the war with Japan.

Jim Sanborn’s Interview

Jim Sanborn is an American sculptor known for works such as “Kryptos” at the CIA Headquarters in McLean, VA. In this interview, Sanborn discusses his exhibit “Critical Assembly,” which is now on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. The installation recreates the Manhattan Project scientists’ experiments at Los Alamos to determine when plutonium would go “critical” in an atomic bomb. Sanborn explains why he decided to do the project, and how he carefully created each piece of the exhibit. He describes some of the artifacts in the exhibit, including the physics package of the Trinity device and an oscilloscope, and where he found some of the materials and artifacts he used. Sanborn also discusses the Slotin accident, the urchin initiator, and other key scientific and engineering devices from the Manhattan Project.

Jim Smith’s Interview

James L. Smith is a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). In this interview, Smith recalls his more than forty-year career at LANL. He describes some of the history of the Manhattan Project and LANL’s innovative work during the war through today, including work on the human genome, computing, and radiation detection. He emphasizes the importance of having multidisciplinary national laboratories to produce pioneering innovations and scientific discoveries. Smith also recalls his friendship with Edward Teller, who he was assigned to teach about superconductivity, and other Manhattan Project scientists including Nicholas Metropolis. He discusses Teller’s relationship with Oppenheimer and other scientists.

Bruce Cameron Reed’s Interview

Bruce Cameron Reed is a physicist and a professor at Alma College. In this interview, he discusses a course he teaches at Alma about nuclear weapons and the Manhattan Project. He explains how he became interested in the physics and history of the Manhattan Project. He provides an overview of some of the challenges the Manhattan Project scientists faced and why uranium, plutonium, and polonium are so difficult to work with. Reed describes some of the innovations of the project, including the implosion design and lenses, the tamper, and the polonium initiator. He concludes by sharing his thoughts on some of the ethical issues related to nuclear weapons.