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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

Julie Melton’s Interview

Julie Melton is an author and expert on civil society, development, and democratization. She is the daughter of Manhattan Project historian David Hawkins and Frances Hawkins, the founder of the nursery school at Los Alamos. During the Manhattan Project, her family lived in the same four-family house as Victor and Ellen Weisskopf, who became some of their closest friends. In this interview, she shares her childhood memories of Los Alamos and anecdotes about prominent Manhattan Project scientists. She also describes her parents’ involvement in the Communist Party at Berkeley, where her father met J. Robert Oppenheimer. She concludes with a brief reflection on the frustrations of being a woman at Los Alamos.

Marshall Rosenbluth’s Interview

Marshall Rosenbluth was an American physicist who worked in the theoretical division at Los Alamos from 1950 to 1956. In this interview, Rosenbluth addresses the theoretical issues involved in designing both the atomic and hydrogen bombs. He discusses how the pressure to create a nuclear bomb before the Soviet Union affected work in the laboratory, especially in performing and checking calculations. Rosenbluth also recounts his experiences during the nuclear weapons tests at Los Alamos and Bikini Atoll. He recalls the roles of top scientists, like Edward Teller, Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi, and Carson Mark, in the building of the hydrogen bomb. He also explains how funding and other external factors affected the hydrogen bomb’s design.

Ted Taylor’s Interview – Part 1

During World War II, Ted Taylor served on active duty in the United States Navy. In 1954, Taylor obtained his PhD in theoretical physics from Cornell University. From 1948-1956, Taylor worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), developing fission bombs of minimal size and maximal capacity. Later in life, while working for the Defense Department, Taylor began to realize the real-world implications and consequences of the bombs he developed. In this interview, he discusses his work on nuclear weapons, the expertise of his fellow scientists at LANL, and the secrecy surrounding fission bomb designs. He also recalls his interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, John Von Neumann, and other scientists.

Stanislaus Ulam’s Interview (1983)

Stanislaus Ulam was a Polish mathematician recruited to the Manhattan Project in 1943. Ulam worked on hydrodynamical calculations that were crucial to the design of the implosion-type weapon created at Los Alamos. After the war Ulam collaborated with fellow Manhattan Project scientist Edward Teller to create the design for the hydrogen bomb. In this interview Ulam discusses the challenges of performing the equations needed to design a nuclear weapon without the help of computers. He also explores the ongoing tensions with his former partner, Edward Teller, over the origins of what has come to be called the Ulam-Teller design. Finally, Ulam reflects on the legacies of the both the Manhattan Project and the numerous scientists who made it possible.

Ellen Bradbury Reid’s Interview

Ellen Bradbury Reid moved to Los Alamos in the summer of 1944 when her father was hired by Norris Bradbury to work in the high explosives division. Reid recalls what it was like growing up as a child at Los Alamos and shares stories about her adventures into the Los Alamos hillside with her younger brother. She also shares memories of attending school in Los Alamos and discusses the diversity of the student body. On occasion, Reid even encountered famous scientists working on the atomic bomb, including J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller.