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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Elsie McMillan’s Lecture

Elsie McMillan was the wife of Nobel Prize winner Edwin McMillan and sister-in-law of another Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Lawrence. She came to Los Alamos in 1943 with Edwin and their baby Ann. In this speech, she takes the audience on an imaginary tour of Los Alamos, complete with detailed descriptions of various buildings and their home, today known as the Hans Bethe House. Her speech characterizes what civilian life was like at Los Alamos for the wives of many scientists, including the challenges of shopping with ration cards and dealing with the tight security. She fondly recalls Pascualita, a Pueblo woman who helped her around her home and invited the McMillans to her home in the Pueblo. Elsie dramatically recalls the tension of the Trinity Test, waiting to find out whether the test was a success and that all the scientists were uninjured.

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.

Louis Rosen’s Interview

Louis Rosen, a native New Yorker and the son of Polish immigrants, was personally selected to work on the Manhattan project in Los Alamos while a graduate student in physics. Once in Los Alamos, Rosen was assigned to Edwin McMillan’s group, where he worked on implosion technology. Rosen remained in Los Alamos after the war ended and was considered the father of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility. Rosen describes some of the struggles he faced in his early life and explains how he and his brother were able to save up enough money to attend college, the first members of their family to do so. Rosen recalls his encounter with Dorothy McKibbin when he first arrived in Santa Fe and describes the housing that was available to scientists who worked at Los Alamos. Finally, Rosen explains some of the scientific discoveries made after the Manhattan Project and offers valuable insight on the nature of science during the height of the Cold War.

Rose Bethe’s Interview

Rose Bethe and her husband, Nobel Prize winner Hans Bethe, moved to Los Alamos in early 1943 when Hans was appointed leader of the Theoretical Division for the Manhattan Project. During the initial stages of the Project, Rose worked in the housing office, where she assigned incoming scientists and their families to houses and showed them where site facilities were located. When Rose became pregnant with her first child, Henry, she resigned her position to help physicist Bruno Rossi wire electronics boards. Mrs. Bethe recalls raising her children at Los Alamos and some of the relationships she developed with many of the project’s most famous scientists. She also discusses her childhood years in Germany and how the rise of Hitler forced her and many of her close friends to leave the country.