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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Lew Kowarski’s Interview – Part 2

Lew Kowarski was a Russian-born French physicist who worked as part of the team that discovered that neutrons were emitted in the fission of uranium-235 in the late 1930s, setting the groundwork for the use of nuclear chain reactions in the design of the atomic bomb. After the Second World War, Kowarski went on to supervise the first French nuclear reactors and became a staff member in the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in 1953. In this interview Kowarski recounts his experience secretly transporting the French supply of heavy water to England to keep it out of Nazi hands. He also discusses his time working in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University with James Chadwick and other esteemed physicist. He also explains the Manhattan Project from a European perspective, including the increasing secrecy of the project.

Anthony French’s Interview (2008)

In this interview, Anthony French discusses how impressive the Manhattan Project was and what made it decidedly different from the British wartime atomic efforts. French talks about his relationships with other members of the British mission, namely Klaus Fuchs and Egon Bretscher. Finally, he shares his opinions on dropping the atomic bombs on Japan and nuclear proliferation during the Cold War.

Myfanwy Pritchard-Roberts’s Interview

Myfanwy Pritchard-Roberts worked in Rhydymwyn, Wales as a laboratory assistant in the Tube Alloys program, the British mission to create the nuclear bomb. In this interview Roberts not only explores life within Great Britain’s secret city, but also touches on what it was like to live during World War II. She discusses rationing and the tensions it created with the people she worked and lived with, as well as the experience of being away from her family for an extended amount of time. Roberts also recounts the overalls she had to wear to work each day, as well as her assignments and the other people she encountered within the laboratories.

Val Fitch’s Interview

Val Fitch is a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He was drafted into the Special Engineer Detachment, and remembers George Kistiakowsky getting the SED special exemptions from their military duties so they could work harder on the Project. He was sent to Wendover, UT to observe the dummy bomb tests. He worked on the detonation team for the Trinity test, and recalls witnessing the test. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1980. Fitch served on President Nixon’s Science Advisory Committee in the early ‘70s, and discusses the importance of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

Hugh Taylor’s Interview

Sir Hugh Taylor was a British-born chemist and the first man to create pure, radioactive heavy water. He worked as a consultant for the Kellex Corporation during the Manhattan Project while maintaining his duties as a professor at Princeton University. After working on the heavy water problem in Trail, British Columbia, Taylor helped design the barrier to be used for uranium separation at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview with author Stephane Groueff, Sir Hugh discusses his early work with heavy water, the difficulties in the Norris-Adler barrier for uranium separation, and the extensive industrial effort required to complete the million square foot barrier.