Robert S. Norris is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and author of the definitive biography of General Leslie R. Groves, “Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man.” In this interview, Norris provides an overview of how the Manhattan Project began, how the project sites were selected, and the role of British scientists in the project. He discusses the fear that many Manhattan Project scientists felt that Germany would develop an atomic bomb first. He explains Groves’ background, why he was the perfect leader for the project, and how he involved industry, especially DuPont, to help with the project. Norris contends that the Manhattan Project was a unique program in American history and would be difficult to replicate today.
Dr. Henry Frisch is a professor of physics at the University of Chicago. He is the son of David Frisch, who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. In this interview, Frisch discusses the University of Chicago’s role in the Manhattan Project and how leading figures at UChicago advocated for civilian control of atomic energy. He also shares some of his father’s stories from Los Alamos, and reflects on the challenges of addressing nuclear weapons today.
Crawford Greenewalt, Jr., was an archeologist and the son of Crawford Greenewalt, a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company. The elder Greenewalt was assigned to act as a liaison between the physicists at the Chicago Met Lab and the engineers at Hanford, who were constructing the B Reactor. He went on to become the President of DuPont, and was renowned for his interest in photography, birds, and other scientific endeavors. Crawford Jr. discusses his family’s lineage, his father’s education and career, and his father’s busy schedule during the war. He also recalls the comfortable family breakfasts and his parents’ love for music and dancing.
Nancy Greenewalt Frederick is the oldest child of Crawford Greenewalt, a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company. He was assigned to act as a liaison between the physicists at the Chicago Met Lab and the engineers at Hanford, who were constructing the B Reactor. He went on to become the President of DuPont, and was renowned for his interest in photography, birds, and other scientific endeavors. Frederick discusses her father’s wide-ranging interests, his passion for his job, and the activities he enjoyed pursuing with his wife, family, and friends.
General Kenneth Nichols was the District Engineer for the Manhattan Engineering District, and oversaw the design and operation of the Hanford and Oak Ridge sites. He was responsible for securing the initial deals with Stone & Webster and the DuPont Company to develop the industry for the site, and lived for a time with his wife at Oak Ridge. He discusses sabotage and Klaus Fuchs, dealings with the British, and the very start of the Manhattan Project. He recalls some conflict between the scientists and engineers, the importance of industry in the project, and the initial problems with the startup of the B Reactor.
Colonel Franklin Matthias was the officer-in-charge at the Hanford site. In the second part of his interview with Stephane Groueff, Matthias describes the personalities of the men he worked with, including Enrico Fermi and DuPont’s Granville Read. He recalls a visit by Fermi and Eugene Wigner to Hanford, and explains why Read got along well with General Leslie Groves. Matthias discusses the safety measures at Hanford, and recounts how a Japanese fire balloon temporarily knocked out power to the plant. He also explains how scientists conducted tests on salmon to assess levels of radioactive contamination in the Columbia River.
Newton Stapleton worked for the legal department at DuPont when he was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project. He became responsible for security and secrecy at Hanford, WA. He describes the security procedures in place, including how background checks were conducted and badges were issued. He discusses the emphasis on secrecy and how DuPont’s leaders urged workers to keep quiet about their work. Stapleton recalls the challenge of getting a four-bedroom home in Richland and bringing his family out to Richland.
Colonel Franklin Matthias was the officer-in-charge at the Hanford site. In this interview, Matthias discusses his early life and his placement as the officer-in-charge at Hanford. He also talks about the relationships between DuPont and the military and the scientists, as well as how cooperation was essential. Matthias remembers the various problems that plagued the Hanford site and how he and his colleagues overcame them.
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.
The men who worked alongside Fermi in Chicago, including Crawford Greenewalt, Herb Anderson, and Arthur Holly Compton, describe the construction of Chicago Pile Number One. They narrate the day of its first successful operation, December 2, 1942. Fermi’s meticulous measurements and accurate predictions are cited as primary factors in this achievement. The program also discusses Fermi’s evolving role in the Manhattan Project, including his trips to Hanford and his move to Los Alamos in 1944. Part 3 concludes with the morning of July 16, 1945, when Fermi witnessed – and measured the yield of – the Trinity Test.