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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Gayleen Meservey’s Interview

Gayleen Meservey grew up in Idaho Falls, and worked at the National Reactor Testing Station. She describes the bus rides to and from the laboratory, which often involved card games and occasionally getting stuck in the snow. She discusses the positive relationship between the laboratory and the town, and how the influx of scientists transformed the town and the state. She also explains the incredible change in computers from the 1960s through the early 2000s, and what it was like to work on early computers.

Peter Lax’s Interview

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Peter Lax fled Nazi persecution and came to America with his family at the age of 15. Drafted into the Army when he was 18, he joined other émigré scientists and mathematicians in Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lax discusses his work as a member of the Manhattan Project’s Special Engineer Detachment and his mathematical contributions to the challenges of neutron transport, fluid dynamics, and shockwaves. He vividly describes what life was like at Los Alamos and offers keen insights on the revolutionizing development of scientific computing and atomic energy. He also recalls the many contributions of the Hungarian mathematicians and scientists at Los Alamos, who were nicknamed “the Martians.”

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.