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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Inge-Juliana Sackmann Christy’s Interview

Inge-Juliana Sackmann Christy is a physicist and author. She was born in Germany in 1942 and immigrated to Canada in the 1950s. She later married physicist Robert Christy, who was an important member of the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Sackmann Christy describes details from her early life, how she met Robert Christy, the personalities of famous Caltech scientists such as Richard Feynman, and German physicists’ perspectives on the atomic bomb.

Richard Rhodes’ Interview (2018)

Richard Rhodes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” “The Twilight of the Bombs,” “Dark Sun,” and “Energy: A Human History,” as well as more than twenty other books. In this interview, Rhodes expounds on the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inevitability of discovering nuclear fission, the development of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear proliferation and the Cold War arms race, and the relationship between the Soviet Union and United States. He also discusses his play “Reykjavik,” based on the 1986 meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.

John Adams’s Lecture

John Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer of contemporary classical music. Known for his operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, as well as for multiple orchestral works, Adams speaks here about Doctor Atomic, his 2005 opera set at Los Alamos in the weeks leading up to the Trinity Test. He describes the creation of the work and why he was initially hesitant to develop an opera around J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. He discusses its unusual libretto, which uses only words actually spoken or written by the people depicted in the opera, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, Leo Szilard, and Edward Teller.

Astro Teller’s Interview

Astro Teller, co-founder of Alphabet subsidiary “X,” is the grandson of Edward Teller, the famous physicist often considered the father of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Astro recalls how Edward loved to read him fairy tales and play bridge – though Edward played competitively with Astro’s other grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gerard Debreu. He discusses Edward’s love of answering big scientific questions, his family life, and time at Los Alamos. Astro explains that Edward missed working on science when he became more involved in politics and military matters later in life, and how Edward tried to warn the world about climate change decades ago. Astro also explores parallels between Edward’s work, the Manhattan Project, and his own work at X, and talks about the importance of applied research.

Harris Mayer’s Interview

Harris Mayer is an American physicist. A student of both Edward Teller and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, he worked at Columbia University during the Manhattan Project. He moved to Los Alamos in 1947 to work at the Los Alamos laboratory, and his early work contributed to the development of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Mayer discusses his close friendships with other scientists and his work on the Operation Greenhouse nuclear tests. He shares stories about Teller, Frederick Reines, and Richard Feynman, and recalls attempting to mediate the conflict between Teller and Hans Bethe.

Robert S. Norris’s Interview (2002)

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.

Mary Brennan’s Interview

Mary Brennan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She and her husband, Curtiss, moved next door to Dorothy McKibbin, “the Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.” In this interview, Mary discusses her memories of Dorothy, how Dorothy ended up in New Mexico, and Dorothy’s relationship to J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. In addition, she explains the specificities of the house and how it was a social destination for members of the project. The Brennans are the current owners of McKibbin’s house and still reside next door.

Jon Hunner’s Interview

Dr. Jon Hunner is a Professor of History at New Mexico State University, the author of “Inventing Los Alamos” and “J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War and the Atomic West,” and a former director of the New Mexico History Museum. In this interview, Hunner provides an overview of life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, including its takeover of the Los Alamos Ranch School and its relationship with Hispanos and Pueblos in the area. He talks about how Manhattan Project scientists and their family members would arrive in Santa Fe, and the sites in Santa Fe that are linked to the project. Hunner also discusses J. Robert Oppenheimer and his family, and Oppenheimer’s security hearing that revoked his security clearance. He describes the devastating effects of the atomic bombs on the Japanese who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and discusses his thoughts on the influence of the atomic bombs on Japan’s decision to surrender.

Richard Garwin’s Interview

Richard Garwin is an American physicist. In this interview he begins by discussing his work with Enrico Fermi after the Second World War. He then discusses the development of the hydrogen bomb and the role he played in its design. He also talks about his work at IBM in the 1950s, specifically IBM’s research on radar systems and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). Garwin concludes the interview with a discussion on nuclear security. He shares his views on nuclear arms reduction and how to create a nuclear-free world.

Alfred Zeltmann’s Interview

Al Zeltmann grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After being drafted into the Army during World War II, he was assigned to the Special Engineer Detachment and arrived at Los Alamos in 1944. After the war, he stayed at Los Alamos, and worked as a physical chemist at the Los Alamos laboratory for nearly 40 years. In this interview, he recalls his Manhattan Project work, including on the “RaLa” experiments with Gerhart Friedlander, and describes the relationship between the military and civilians on “The Hill.” He also remembers receiving some unusual instructions from a mail censor after his wife complained he “wasn’t very warm” in his letters.