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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Alfred Nier’s Interview – Part 2

Dr. Alfred Nier was an American physicist well-known for his work on spectrometry. Nier designed the mass spectrometers used for Manhattan Project experiments and his instruments were sent to all of the major Project sites. With his mass spectrometer, Nier helped prove that that U-235 was fissile, not the more abundant isotope U-238. Nier worked for the Kellex Corporation to design and construct the apparatuses used to monitor the separation of Uranium-235 and Uranium-238, as well as leak detectors for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. In this interview, Nier discusses his early involvement in the Manhattan Project in New York and the transport of uranium between Project sites. He also discusses his experiences working at both the Nash Garage Building in New York City, and the K-25 Plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

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.

James C. Stowers’s Interview

Lt. Col. James C. Stowers was an engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers and became the unit chief for the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Stowers and his staff of officers were headquartered in the Woolworth Building in New York. Stowers negotiated the divide between civilian and military contributors, and worked intimately with the Kellex Corporation, Union Carbide Company, and the Houdaille-Hershey Company to produce a suitable barrier for the gaseous diffusion project. In this interview, Stowers describes in great detail the many trials and tribulations that challenged the creation of the gaseous diffusion plant.

Hugh Taylor’s Interview

Sir Hugh Taylor was a British-born chemist and the first man to create pure, radioactive heavy water. He worked as a consultant for the Kellex Corporation during the Manhattan Project while maintaining his duties as a professor at Princeton University. After working on the heavy water problem in Trail, British Columbia, Taylor helped design the barrier to be used for uranium separation at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview with author Stephane Groueff, Sir Hugh discusses his early work with heavy water, the difficulties in the Norris-Adler barrier for uranium separation, and the extensive industrial effort required to complete the million square foot barrier.

K.T. Keller’s Interview – Part 2

KT Keller was appointed President of the Chrysler Corporation in 1935, having served as Vice President since 1926. Keller entered the automotive field as an apprentice without any previous education in engineering or mechanics. His intelligence, hard work, and mechanical skills enabled him to advance all the way to the top of Chrysler, where he guided the company through World War II. In Part 2 of his interview, Keller discusses Chrysler’s role in the Manhattan Project, including how the company solved the problem of electroplating tubes with nickel in order to prevent corrosion during the gaseous diffusion process. He also discusses his relationship with General Leslie Groves and his deputy, Col. Kenneth Nichols.

Gale Kenney’s Interview

Gale Kenney was a member of the Special Engineering Detachment at Oak Ridge, where he worked inside the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion plant. With his engineering background, Kenney led a predominantly female team to test the miles of piping used in the gaseous diffusion process. In this interview, Kenney discusses his experience at K-25, the social life in Oak Ridge, and the workers’ reaction to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

General Leslie Groves’s Interview – Part 8

In this interview, General Groves discusses his relationship with Vannevar Bush, the head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development [OSRD], and James B. Conant, the President of Harvard and a member of the National Defense Research Committee [NDRC]. Bush and Conant both played key roles during the Manhattan Project, acting as liaisons between Groves, the physicists, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

General Leslie Groves’s Interview – Part 7

In this interview, Groves discusses the relationship between Harold Urey and John Dunning, the two scientists who were in charge of developing the barrier material for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Groves compares the personalities of the two scientists. Groves also explains the hierarchy of the scientists and administrators in Manhattan who were working on uranium enrichment.

John Arnold’s Interview

John Arnold joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 when the MED tasked his employer, the Kellogg Corporation, with developing a special barrier for the gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge. Arnold discusses his role as director of research and development and process engineering at the plant, where he supervised the assembly and testing of what would become the K-25 plant. In his interview, Arnold describes the challenges of creating a suitable barrier that could withstand the corrosive effects of uranium hexafluoride gas while remaining porous enough to allow smaller atoms of uranium-235 to pass through.

Harold Urey’s Interview

Dr. Harold Urey was an American physical chemist and winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on deuterium and heavy water. Urey worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, overseeing the development of the gaseous diffusion method and the production of a suitable barrier for the separation of uranium isotopes. He discusses working with numerous colleagues, including Arthur Compton, Enrico Fermi, and General Leslie Groves. He also discusses his early life, his education, and his work following the war.