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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

Roger Hildebrand’s Interview

Roger Hildebrand is an American physicist and the S.K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, at the University of Chicago. His involvement with the Manhattan Project began with a tap on the shoulder by Ernest Lawrence, who convinced Hildebrand to shift from being a chemist to a physicist. He worked with cyclotrons and mass spectrometers at Berkeley before transferring to the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge. In this interview, Hildebrand shares his memories of Lawrence, Enrico Fermi, Samuel Allison, and other Manhattan Project scientists. He recalls his postwar work at the University of Chicago, and the pressure he felt after being asked to be a substitute in one of Fermi’s classes.

Clarence Larson’s Interview

Dr. Clarence Larson, a chemist, began working under Ernest O. Lawrence in his lab at the University of California, Berkeley in 1942. In 1943, he moved to Oak Ridge and was appointed head of technical staff for the Tennessee Eastman Corporation. He later served as director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and as a commissioner on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. During the Manhattan Project, Larson designed a process to recover and purify uranium deposits from the walls of calutron receivers at the Y-12 Plant. In this interview, he explains the importance of this innovation in producing enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb. He also describes the challenges encountered in the Y-12 Plant’s early days, as well as Lawrence’s leadership skills and unyielding confidence.

General Leslie Groves’s Interview – Part 12

In this interview, General Groves discusses the design of the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion plant in Oak Ridge and the dispute with the Tennessee Valley Authority to supply power to the plant. He explains in detail the delivery schedule for enriched uranium and the timeline leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Groves also discusses the organization of security and counterintelligence established during the Manhattan Project and supervised by Colonel John Lansdale.

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.

Harold Fidler’s Interview

Harold Fidler was an Army major and a civil engineer for the Corps of Engineers. Fidler began working at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley with Ernest O. Lawrence in the early stages of the Manhattan Project. Fiddler was responsible for sending weekly reports on the progress that scientists were making to Colonel James C. Marshall, who oversaw the Manhattan Project during its initial stages. Fiddler also ensured that the laboratory received the materials that it needed. In his interview, he discusses what it was like to work under Lawrence, along with the secrecy surrounding the cyclotron and General Groves’ frequent visits.

Jimmy Vale’s Interview

Jimmy Vale joined the Manhattan Project in 1943, where he helped operate calutrons as part of Ernest O. Lawrence’s particle accelerator team. Vale shares his recollections about Lawrence and discusses their time traveling together and the quirks of Lawrence’s personality.