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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

George Warren Reed’s Interview (2006)

George Warren Reed (1920-2015) was a chemist at the Chicago Met Lab during World War II. He primarily researched fission yields of uranium and thorium to determine their viability for a nuclear chain reaction. Reed was one of the few African American scientists to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Reed talks with his son Mark Morrison-Reed about family life, sabbatical, the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., work on the Manhattan Project, retirement, and his positions at Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory.

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.

Floy Agnes Lee’s Interview

Floy Agnes Lee was one of the few Pueblo Indians to work as a technician at the Los Alamos laboratory during the Manhattan Project. As a hematologist, she collected blood from Manhattan Project scientists, including from Louis Slotin and Alvin Graves after the criticality accident that exposed Slotin to a fatal amount of radiation. After working at Los Alamos, she transferred to the Chicago Met Lab, and later Argonne National Laboratory and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While working and caring for her daughter Patricia as a single mother, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Over the course of her long career, she conducted research on the impact of radiation on chromosomes. In this interview, Lee recalls her interactions with Slotin and Graves after the accident and playing tennis with Enrico Fermi. Her parents were Pueblo and White, and she discusses how that has shaped her life. She also describes visiting her family at the Santa Clara Pueblo and her ancestors’ involvement in the politics of the Pueblo.

Milton Levenson’s Interview

Milton Levenson is an American chemical engineer and former president of the American Nuclear Society who has worked in the nuclear energy field for more than 60 years. During the Manhattan Project, he worked at Decatur, IL, and Oak Ridge, TN, where he was a supervisor at the X-10 plant. In this interview, he describes how he joined the Manhattan Project and his experiences at Oak Ridge, including his memories of segregation there. Levenson then talks about his post-war career as an expert on nuclear safety, including his role in responding to the SL-1, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl accidents. He also recalls having to tell Enrico Fermi that he could not perform an experiment for safety reasons.

Roslyn Robinson’s Interview

Roslyn D. Robinson worked as a driver and in the administration office for the Chicago Met Lab. Her husband, Sidney, was an engineer who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, she talks about her early life, as well as her duties in Chicago and the omnipresent emphasis on secrecy. She recalls her husband’s hospitalization and quarantine after a mysterious “spill” in his laboratory at the New Chem Building. She also remembers learning about the project’s true purpose when Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, her reaction to that event, and how the Project continued to affect their lives after the war.

Dieter Gruen’s Interview (2015)

Dieter Gruen joined the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge in September of 1944, shortly after his graduation from Northwestern University. His work primarily focused on the chemical problems related to the separation of uranium isotopes. In response to difficulties determining the difference between uranium nitrate and uranium peroxide in the final stages of separation, Gruen created an entirely new material: sulfonated copper phthalocyanine. This indicator maintained stability in nitric acid, allowing for the easy identification and eventual extraction of uranium nitrate. Immediately after the war, he helped form Oak Ridge Scientists and Engineers, a group dedicated to ensuring the future prevention of the use of nuclear weapons in war. In this interview, Gruen discusses the secrecy related to the project, the relatively lax safety standards of the period, and the differences between government support for science in the 1950s and government support today.

Robert Cantrell’s Interview

Robert Cantrell joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 and worked as an architect for Dr. Walter Zinn’s design group at the University of Chicago. Working from his office in Ryerson Hall, Cantrell helped design a new mechanism for inserting the control rods into the nuclear reactor. He also designed innovative tools for scientists who were working on radioactive materials. Cantrell recalls borrowing a peace of platinum from the New Chem building at Chicago and being reprimanded walking back to his office without an armed escort; he found out that the piece of platinum was worth “about seventy thousand dollars” and that he “had about half of all the available platinum in the country.” After the war, Cantrell continued his career as an architect and helped design buildings for universities across the country.