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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Phillip Broughton’s Interview

Phillip Broughton is a health physicist and Deputy Laser Safety Officer at the University of California, Berkeley. In this interview, he describes how he became a health physicist and the kind of work he does at Berkeley. He provides an overview of the buildings at Berkeley where Manhattan Project scientists worked during the war, and discusses some of the key scientists such as Glenn Seaborg. Broughton also recounts experiences from the year he spent working at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where in addition to serving as the science cryogenics handler, he also became the Station’s bartender.

Bob Carter’s Interview (2018)

Robert Carter spent a year and a half as a graduate student at Purdue University before being recruited to work for the Manhattan Project. At Los Alamos, Carter’s team, which included his close friend Joan Hinton, worked on the research reactor. Eventually, Carter and Hinton came to work closely with Enrico Fermi, who became a mentor and friend to the two of them. Carter fondly recounts his dinners and hikes with Hinton and Fermi, both at Los Alamos and after. After the war, Carter enrolled in graduate courses at University of Illinois before returning to Los Alamos for fifteen years. For the rest of his career, Carter worked for various government agencies before retiring. Carter also discusses his friend Harry Daghlian and advising prominent physicist George Gamow on a project.

Margaret Norman’s Interview

Margaret Norman is the eldest daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ernest O. Lawrence. In this interview, Norman describes her father’s childhood, including the importance of her father’s Norwegian heritage and values, and how her parents met. She recalls what it was like to grow up as the eldest daughter of six children, and how Ernest passed his values on to them. She describes visiting the laboratory at Berkeley where her father worked, and finding out about the atomic bombs and Ernest’s involvement. Margaret also recalls her father’s friendship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and other scientists, and explains that he could never really relax because he was always thinking about science.

Robert R. Wilson’s Interview

Robert R. Wilson was an American physicist. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where he first met Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer recruited Wilson and his entire group at Princeton to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos on the cyclotron. After arriving at Los Alamos in 1944, Wilson became head of the Research Division. In this interview, Wilson reflects on his time working with Oppie, including his personality, political views, and Oppenheimer’s unwillingness to engage him on the moral implications of building the bomb. He discusses Oppenheimer’s controversial security hearing and recalls how it affected Oppenheimer. Wilson recalls how he and other scientists fought against Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss’s appointment as Secretary of Commerce in retaliation for Strauss’s role in the hearing.

Joseph Rotblat’s Interview

Joseph Rotblat was a British-naturalized Polish physicist, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and founder of the Pugwash Conferences. Rotblat and his friend James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, conducted early research on the atomic bomb in England, and both joined the British Mission at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project. Rotblat left the Manhattan Project on grounds of conscience in late 1944 when it became clear Germany was not close to developing an atomic bomb—the only scientist to leave the project for moral reasons. In this interview, he discusses his personal and professional relationships with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and the Chadwick family. He also provides insight into the intense security measures in place at Los Alamos, as well as the nature of British involvement at the site. Perhaps most intriguing is Roblat’s discussion of his decision to leave Los Alamos, spurred on by his growing concern that the nuclear weapons being created were also meant for the Soviet Union, and his anxiety over a postwar arms race. In a lighter vein, Rotblat also recalls his work as a technical advisor on the 1980 miniseries “Oppenheimer.”

Lee DuBridge’s Interview – Part 1

Lee DuBridge was the founding director of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and later became the president of Caltech. In this interview, he describes his relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, beginning with the summer symposiums on theoretical physics at Ann Arbor, MI in the 1930s, where Oppenheimer lectured. DuBridge recalls the symposiums’ important role in facilitating fluid exchange of ideas in the tight-knit physicist community. During the war, DuBridge was asked by Oppenheimer to troubleshoot issues at Los Alamos, because of his experience with the Rad Lab. After the war, DuBridge and Oppenheimer both served on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. DuBridge remembers Oppenheimer’s great grasp of detail, his ability to quickly absorb technical papers, and his ability as a lecturer.

Philip Abelson’s Interview (2002)

Philip Abelson first became involved in uranium enrichment while a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley, working with cyclotrons under Ernest O. Lawrence. He explains how he came up with the idea that liquid thermal diffusion could enrich uranium-238 to U-235, how this process was implemented first at a factory at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and later at the S-50 Plant in Oak Ridge, and the important role the S-50 Plant played in the uranium enrichment process. He recalls his encounters with Lawrence, J. Robert Oppenheimer, William “Deak” Parsons, Edwin McMillan, Luis Alvarez, and other Manhattan Project leaders.

Bob Carter’s Interview (2015)

Bob Carter is an American physicist who joined the Manhattan Project first at Purdue and then at Los Alamos. He worked in a group that was assigned to create an operating nuclear reactor that ran on enriched uranium. In this interview, Carter discusses how he came to be interested in physics and wrapped up in the Manhattan Project and nuclear physics instead of being drafted. He also talks about his experience at Los Alamos working on the enriched uranium reactor and how he taught several big name scientists, including Enrico Fermi, how to operate it. Carter also discusses meeting Oppenheimer and seeing the Trinity test unauthorized, as well as his interactions with spies Klaus Fuchs and Ted Hall.

Gordon Steele’s Interview

Gordon Steele was a chemist who began working at the Manhattan Project at the University of California, Berkeley, and was later transferred to the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge. He worked on separating uranium-235 using calutrons developed by Ernest Lawrence at UC Berkeley. In this interview Steele explores a variety of topics, from his work separating uranium isotopes to the realities of living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He recounts a trip to Georgia in which he and his friends purchased rum and other liquors to smuggle into Oak Ridge, a decidedly dry town during the war. He also discusses his coworkers, their chess games, and some mishaps in repairing the calutron machines.

Robert Thornton’s Interview

Robert Lyster Thornton was the assistant director of the Process Improvement Division of the Tennessee Eastman Corporation at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview, Thornton remembers Ernest Lawrence asking him to join the Manhattan Project just after Pearl Harbor. He explains the development and workings of the Beta plant at Oak Ridge. He also discusses the challenges he faced separating uranium isotopes, the uranium enrichment process, and the thousands of men and women who helped in the process.