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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Gordon Garrett’s Interview

Gordon Garrett moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1944, at the age of seven. His father worked at the Y-12 plant; his mother was active in the Oak Ridge community. In this interview, Garrett recalls his childhood in the “Secret City” and describes some of the challenges residents faced and how they overcame them. He also discusses the problems of racial segregation and tensions between Oak Ridge and surrounding areas. In addition, he talks about his career path, including his experience in the Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how growing up in Oak Ridge would affect him for the rest of his life.

William Ginell’s Interview

William Ginell is a physical chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview he describes how he became interested in chemistry and his experiences working at Columbia University and Oak Ridge, TN on the gaseous diffusion process. He reflects on the Army, living conditions, and the intense secrecy and security during the project. He also discusses his life after the war, especially his work at Brookhaven, Atomics International, and Douglas Aircraft.

Ruth Kerr Jakoby’s Interview

Ruth Kerr Jakoby is the daughter of mineralogist Paul Francis Kerr, who took part in the Manhattan Project and later advised the Atomic Energy Commission. In this interview, Kerr Jakoby recalls her memories of her father’s trips to Africa to find uranium for the Manhattan Project. She also remembers her interest in the Rosenberg trial.

David Fox’s Interview

David Fox’s father, Dr. Marvin Fox, studied physics at Columbia University under Isidor Rabi and Harold Urey. Marvin Fox worked at the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and at Columbia during the Manhattan Project. After the war, he served as Chairman of the Reactor Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he helped build the Graphite Research Reactor, the first reactor dedicated to peaceful uses of atomic energy. In this interview, David Fox describes his father’s work on the Manhattan Project and at Brookhaven, his idealism about technology, and how the onset of the Cold War affected him.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 2

Laura Fermi discusses the family’s decision to leave Italy in 1938 in the wake of the government’s support for anti-Semitic laws. The program describes Enrico winning the Nobel Prize for Physics. Herb Anderson, Fermi’s associate at Columbia University in New York, remembers Fermi’s arrival to the city and move to Chicago to work in the Chicago Met Lab. Fermi explains how scientists agreed to keep the Manhattan Project secret. The interviewees also recall working on the Chicago Pile-1. Anderson, George Weil, and others also describe Fermi’s most distinctive qualities: his energy, willingness to collaborate, and informal approach.

General Leslie Groves’s Interview – Part 7

In this interview, Groves discusses the relationship between Harold Urey and John Dunning, the two scientists who were in charge of developing the barrier material for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Groves compares the personalities of the two scientists. Groves also explains the hierarchy of the scientists and administrators in Manhattan who were working on uranium enrichment.

Harold Urey’s Interview

Dr. Harold Urey was an American physical chemist and winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on deuterium and heavy water. Urey worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, overseeing the development of the gaseous diffusion method and the production of a suitable barrier for the separation of uranium isotopes. He discusses working with numerous colleagues, including Arthur Compton, Enrico Fermi, and General Leslie Groves. He also discusses his early life, his education, and his work following the war.

Vera Kistiakowsky’s Interview

Vera Kistiakowsky is an American physicist and the daughter of physical chemist George Kistiakowsky, who directed the Explosives Division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and later served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s science advisor. Vera, who entered her first year of college at Mount Holyoke in 1944, visited her father at Los Alamos during the summer months in 1944 and 1945. In her interview, she discusses the sense of freedom she felt in the secret city and talks about the fun she had on horseback riding adventures with her father.

Herbert Anderson’s Interview (1965)

Herbert Anderson worked with Enrico Fermi on the Chicago Pile-1 at the Met Lab at the University of Chicago. He grew up during the Depression, accepting a scholarship to study electrical engineering before he transferred to physics. Anderson worked alongside Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi at Columbia and helped run the night shift when physicists were putting together the CP-1.

William Lanouette’s Interview

William Lanouette is the author of “Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb.” Lanouette highlights Szilard’s contributions to the Manhattan Project, including his theoretical discovery of chain reaction and critical mass, along with his efforts to curb the use of nuclear weapons after Germany surrendered. He provides an overview of Szilard’s life and his scientific contributions in many fields. Lanouette explains that Szilard’s legacy is not well known due to the vast scope of his work and because his brilliance put him too far ahead of his time.