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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

David Holcomb’s Interview

David Holcomb is a nuclear engineer who specializes in instrumentation and controls for the molten salt reactors at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In this interview, Holcomb discusses his background as a scientist, and recalls his interaction with great minds that worked at Oak Ridge. He explains the differences between molten salt reactors and traditional light-water reactors, and advocates for increased usage of the molten salt reactors in the future. Holcomb closes by promoting nuclear energy on a worldwide scale, discussing the positive benefits it can bring to impoverished nations.

Gordon Fee’s Interview

Gordon Fee is the retired president of Lockheed Martin Energy Systems and the former manager of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, TN. He began working at Oak Ridge at the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in 1956. In this interview, he describes his career at Oak Ridge, and shares stories about his work at Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). In particular, he focuses on scientific developments connected with Oak Ridge, including the growth of the Nuclear Navy, the use of radioisotopes in medicine, and more. He also discusses the challenges of trying to explain Oak Ridge’s complex history to the public.

Shigeko Uppuluri’s Interview

Shigeko Uppuluri was born in Kyoto, Japan and lived in Shanghai, China during World War II. She came to the United States for graduate school, where she met her husband, mathematician Ram Uppuluri. The couple moved to Oak Ridge, TN in 1963. In this interview, Uppuluri tells the story of the Oak Ridge International Friendship Bell, a symbol of peace and reconciliation between Japan and the United States. She describes how she and her husband launched the effort to build the Bell, the opposition they faced, and the new Peace Pavilion for the Bell in Oak Ridge’s Bissell Park.

Thomas Mason’s Interview

Thomas (Thom) Mason is the President and CEO of Triad National Security, LLC and the director designate of Los Alamos National Laboratory. A condensed matter physicist, he previously served as the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2007-2017, and as Senior Vice President for Global Laboratory Operations at Battelle. In this interview, Mason describes some of the major scientific projects at Oak Ridge from the Manhattan Project to today, including the Spallation Neutron Source, nuclear reactor development, scientific computing, and nuclear nonproliferation efforts. He also explains why he believes that the science done at universities and national laboratories creates “a fertile ground” for innovation.

Dieter Gruen’s Interview (2018)

Dieter Gruen worked in the Chemical Research Division at the Y-12 Plant during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, he discusses his childhood in Walldorf, Germany, and how his family’s life changed as the Nazis came to power. Gruen discusses how he came to the U.S. in 1937, and his school experiences both in Little Rock, Arkansas, and at the University of Chicago. He explains how his work at Oak Ridge led him to devote his career to science and innovation. He also spends time sharing his feelings about his involvement with the Manhattan Project. Gruen discusses his views regarding climate change, and how nations can work together to resolve it.

Samuel Beall Jr.’s Interview

Sam Beall is an American nuclear engineer. During the Manhattan Project, he worked for the DuPont Company at the Chicago Met Lab, Oak Ridge, TN, and Hanford, WA. After the war, he stayed at Oak Ridge and ultimately became head of the Reactor Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). In this interview, Beall discusses his involvement with various nuclear reactors at Oak Ridge and recalls his friendship with former ORNL director Alvin Weinberg. He also describes his childhood in Richland, Georgia.

Freeman Dyson’s Interview

Freeman Dyson is an esteemed mathematician and theoretical physicist at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. In this interview, Dyson discusses his work at England’s Bomber Command in World War II, tracking the position of bomber forces. He explains the importance of scientific innovation in wartime, the effectiveness of strategic bombing campaigns, and why civil defense worked better in Germany than in Britain. Dyson later worked with Manhattan Project veterans Hans Bethe, Richard Feynman, and Robert R. Wilson, and recalls how they felt about the project. He discusses Niels Bohr and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s ideas for international control of nuclear weapons, and what methods he thinks would work best to further nonproliferation efforts today. Dyson also remembers visiting Oak Ridge, and explains Oak Ridge’s important role in building innovative nuclear reactors and conducting biological experiments.

Dunell Cohn’s Interview

Dunell Cohn was born in Oak Ridge in 1944. Cohn’s father, Waldo, was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project in Chicago in 1942 for his work on radioisotopes at Berkeley and Harvard during the 1930s. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Oak Ridge, where he developed a method to separate the fission products from the nuclear reactor. He also pioneered the radioisotope program at Oak Ridge, producing radioisotopes in large quantities that could then be used for medical and biological research. Dunell recalls what it was like growing up as a child at Oak Ridge and describes his father’s effort to desegregate the town by integrating the public school system. He also remembers his father’s love for music and his role in creating Oak Ridge’s symphony orchestra.

Miles Leverett’s Interview

When World War II began, Miles Leverett was a young PhD chemical engineer working for Humble Oil & Refining Co. in Houston. One day his boss, who had recently disappeared from Houston, telephoned from Chicago and asked Leverett if he wanted to work on a war project. Leverett did, and eventually became associated closely with the helium-cooled reactor proposal at the Met Lab. In addition, he was part of design engi­neering for the mechanical aspects of the Hanford reactors, and was initially in charge of the engineering group attached to the X-10 Graphite Reactor. After the war, Leverett continued a distinguished career in nuclear engi­neering, a field he pioneered, with an emphasis on reactor safety. In this interview, Leverett describes the importance of DuPont and the relationship between the industry and the academics. He also discusses his work on nuclear-powered aircraft after the war.