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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Bruce Cameron Reed’s Interview

Bruce Cameron Reed is a physicist and a professor at Alma College. In this interview, he discusses a course he teaches at Alma about nuclear weapons and the Manhattan Project. He explains how he became interested in the physics and history of the Manhattan Project. He provides an overview of some of the challenges the Manhattan Project scientists faced and why uranium, plutonium, and polonium are so difficult to work with. Reed describes some of the innovations of the project, including the implosion design and lenses, the tamper, and the polonium initiator. He concludes by sharing his thoughts on some of the ethical issues related to nuclear weapons.

Robert Bacher’s Interview – Part 2

In 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer recruited American physicist Robert Bacher to join the Manhattan Project as head of the experimental physics division at Los Alamos. Bacher went on to direct the bomb physics division at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1945, helping oversee the design of the implosion bomb, known as “Fat Man,” that was dropped on Nagasaki. In this interview, Bacher recalls how the Los Alamos laboratory was forced to shift gears from the gun-type design for the plutonium bomb to the implosion-type method. He also describes his post-war service as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Jean Bacher’s Interview

Jean Dow Bacher was born in 1907, and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She married fellow Ann Arbor native and leading Manhattan Project scientist Robert Bacher in 1930. Jean was a “computer” at Los Alamos during the Project. In this interview, she describes the friendship her and her husband shared with the Oppenheimers, and their interactions with other scientists and their families at Los Alamos. Bacher recalls how observers who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “appalled and stunned” at the destruction there, and explains how J. Robert Oppenheimer and others at Los Alamos tried to come to terms with their work on the bomb. She recounts Oppenheimer’s anxiety about being under surveillance in the lead up to his security hearing. She also recalls Edward Teller’s habit of playing the piano late at night, and shares her impressions of Kitty Oppenheimer.

Harry Allen and Robert Van Gemert’s Interview

Harry Allen and Robert Van Gemert worked in procurement at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, the pair discusses getting ready for the Trinity test, the challenges of using Jumbo, and how materials were transported safely and secretly in and out of Los Alamos. They remember helping to acquire the lead-lined tanks used to transport scientists to the blast zone after the Trinity test. Allen and Van Gemert also discuss the dormitories at Los Alamos, how the Town Council handled problems, and the secrets of PO Box 1663. They recall their interactions with leading scientists including Emilio Segre, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller.

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.

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.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 1

A collection of remembrances of Manhattan Project physicist Enrico Fermi, narrated by the late Chicago radio host Jay Andres. The audio recordings are drawn from the archives of the Argonne National Laboratory, the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and the American Institute of Physics. In Part I, Fermi’s close friend and colleague Emilio Segrè describes Fermi’s scientific discoveries, motivations, and personality in detail. Fermi’s wife, Laura Capon Fermi, also offers some of her recollections of life with her husband and his decision to come to the United States. The narrator discusses Fermi’s childhood and genius.

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Interview

In this rare interview, J. Robert Oppenheimer talks about the organization of the Manhattan Project and some of the scientists that he helped to recruit during the earliest days of the project. Oppenheimer discusses some of the biggest challenges that scientists faced during the project, including developing a sound method for implosion and purifying plutonium, which he declares was the most difficult aspect of the project. He discusses the chronology of the project and his first conversation with General Leslie Groves. Oppenheimer recalls his daily routine at Los Alamos, including taking his son Peter to nursery school.

Jack Aeby’s Interview

Jack Aeby was one of the first civilian employees on the Manhattan Project, and captured the only color photograph of the Trinity test. He worked in many areas, starting with transporting people from Lamy to 109 E. Palace Avenue in Santa Fe and then on up the Hill. He was put in charge of the chemical stockroom. Aeby moved to P-5 (Physics Group 5) with Emilio Segrè and Owen Chamberlain. He reactivated the Los Alamos Ranch School’s Boy Scout Troop 22 on demand of the school superintendent. He discusses working with Emilio Segrè at Los Alamos, and how his famous photo of the Trinity test came about.