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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Peter Vandervoort’s Interview

Peter Vandervoort is an American astrophysicist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. In this interview, Vandervoort shares stories about the university’s role in the Manhattan Project. He describes in depth how different buildings on its campus were appropriated for the project. He later discusses his interactions with the university’s distinguished physics faculty members after the war, such as Nobel Prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who was Vandervoort’s Ph.D. advisor in the 1950s. Vandervoort also talks about the university’s community outreach efforts through the years. He concludes the interview by discussing the contributions of women to physics.

Baldwin Sawyer’s Interview

Dr. Baldwin Sawyer was a metallurgist who worked at the Chicago Met Lab during the Manhattan Project. He got involved with the Manhattan Project through his father Charles Baldwin Sawyer, who conducted important research into beryllium. In this interview, Sawyer recounts his experiences during the war. He describes the challenges of developing the uranium canning process for the reactors at Hanford, the project’s sense of urgency, and the boardinghouse he lived in on the South Side of Chicago. He also explains his postwar work with quartz and the pioneering research he conducted into silicon at Bell Laboratories.

The Search for Atomic Power

This 1954 radio program traces the development of nuclear energy from the discovery of the atomic nucleus to the launch of the USS “Nautilus,” the first nuclear submarine. It includes narration, dramatizations with actors playing physicists Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr, and interviews with Arthur H. Compton and Westinghouse Electric Corporation scientists. The program celebrates Westinghouse’s role in producing uranium for the Manhattan Project and details the challenges behind powering the Nautilus.

Raymond Grills’s Interview

Dr. Raymond Grills was a DuPont physical chemist who worked at the University of Chicago Met Lab and later at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. While at Hanford, he was one of two men who invented the canning process that sealed uranium slugs for use in Hanford’s water-cooled nuclear reactors. In this interview, he describes the challenges and pressures he and his colleagues had to overcome, and explains why the canning had to be designed perfectly. He also describes humorous encounters with a machinist and a railroad porter while transporting uranium slugs.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 4

The fourth and final part of the program details Fermi’s postwar work with the Institute of Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, and describes his outrage over the revocation of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance. Friends and colleagues recall his teaching style and boundless energy, and reflect on his character and personality. For his closest friends, his legacy extends beyond his remarkable scientific contributions. They remember his gift for teaching, simplicity, honesty, and lack of conceit. The program narrates the end of Fermi’s life, and concludes with an excerpt from his speech at the tenth anniversary of the operation of Chicago Pile-1.

Frank G. Foote’s and James F. Schumar’s Interview

Frank G. Foote and James F. Schumar were metallurgists who worked on the Manhattan Project. Foote worked in metallurgy at the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago, while Schumar developed procedures for cladding metallic uranium fuel rods with aluminum for Hanford’s B Reactor and Chicago Pile-3. They discuss the challenges of working with uranium metallurgy, from safety issues to the strange properties of uranium metal. They explain their involvement in designing the slugs used in early nuclear reactors. They also explain how they designed a method to extrude and machine uranium.

David P. Rudolph’s Interview

David R. Rudolph was an administrator in charge of inventory at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. In his interview, he discusses how he was one of the few individuals to be present at both the startup of Chicago Pile-1 and the Trinity test. Rudolph recalls the process of reactor construction, along with the disassembly of CP-1 for the construction of CP-2. He explains the importance of inventory control when it came to the uranium and graphite blocks used in CP-1, and how he helped discover that a section had not be stacked with enough blocks.