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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

Ruth Howes’s Interview

Ruth Howes is professor emerita of physics and astronomy at Ball State University with an interest in the history of women physicists. She has researched and written on the role of female scientists in the Manhattan Project. Howes is the co-author of “Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project,” which tells the “hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.”

Louis Hempelmann’s Interview – Part 3

Louis Hempelmann was J. Robert Oppenheimer’s physician and close friend. In this interview, he discusses the hierarchy at Los Alamos, what it was like to work with Kitty Oppenheimer, and Kitty and Robert’s relationship. He recalls his interactions with Oppie, Enrico and Laura Fermi, and Edward Teller, and the parties that Oppenheimer and others used to throw at Los Alamos. Hempelmann remembers driving to Trinity Site with George Kistiakowsky and the high explosives—on Friday the 13th.

Edwin McMillan’s Lecture

Edwin and Elsie McMillan were among the first people to arrive at Los Alamos. Edwin, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was involved in the initial selection of Los Alamos. In this lecture, Edwin describes visiting Jemez Springs and Los Alamos when he, Oppenheimer, and General Groves were deciding on the site for the weapons laboratory. McMillan also discusses his involvement in implosion research, the gun program, and recruiting scientists including Richard Feynman to the project at Princeton University. He also remembers requisitioning Harvard’s cyclotron for the Manhattan Project.

Norris Bradbury’s Interview – Part 1

Norris Bradbury was an American physicist and director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1945-1970. During the Manhattan Project, Bradbury directed the implosion field test program and helped prepare the “Gadget” for the Trinity test. In this interview, Bradbury explains why he was selected to work at Los Alamos, and discusses his work on the plutonium implosion bomb. He recalls his interactions with Manhattan Project leaders J. Robert Oppenheimer, George Kistiakowsky, and Admiral Deak Parsons. Bradbury watched over the “Gadget” at the top of the Trinity test tower to ensure that no one “monkeyed” around with it. He remembers his surprise when Oppenheimer picked him to take over as director of the laboratory, and the challenges he had to overcome to keep the lab up and running.

Sir Rudolf Peierls’s Interview

Sir Rudolf Peierls was a German-born physicist. He worked with Wolfgang Pauli in Switzerland, and moved to England when Hitler rose to power in 1933. In March 1940, Peierls and fellow colleague Otto Frisch co-authored the Frisch-Peierls memorandum, the first technical exposition of a practical atomic weapon. Peierls joined the British Mission and worked on the Manhattan Project in New York and Los Alamos. In this interview, Peierls discusses his work in atomic research and how the Frisch-Peierls memorandum was developed. He recalls going sailing with Oppenheimer, and how the scientists at Los Alamos respected Oppenheimer’s leadership.

Albert Bartlett’s Interview

Albert Bartlett worked with mass spectrometers at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He was part of the group that photographed the Operations Crossroads nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll after the war. In this interview, he recalls his time at Los Alamos and his colleagues, including Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin, who would both die of criticality accidents. He discusses the significance of the colloquia that allowed scientists to share their research on the project. He also recalls fun times including skiing on Sawyer’s Hill, hiking, and dorm parties that used scientific materials to make the punch.

Val Fitch’s Interview

Val Fitch is a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He was drafted into the Special Engineer Detachment, and remembers George Kistiakowsky getting the SED special exemptions from their military duties so they could work harder on the Project. He was sent to Wendover, UT to observe the dummy bomb tests. He worked on the detonation team for the Trinity test, and recalls witnessing the test. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1980. Fitch served on President Nixon’s Science Advisory Committee in the early ‘70s, and discusses the importance of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

David Kaiser’s Interview

David Kaiser is the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of the award winning book “Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics,” and more recently published “How Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival.” His discussion with Atomic Heritage Foundation President, Cindy Kelly, focuses on the birth of nuclear physics and the nuclear bomb, but ranges across scientific developments in the early-to-mid 20th Century. Kelly and Kaiser also deliberate on the facets of innovation, and connect the scientific legacy of the Manhattan Project to current scientific research.

Vera Kistiakowsky’s Interview

Vera Kistiakowsky is an American physicist and the daughter of physical chemist George Kistiakowsky, who directed the Explosives Division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and later served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s science advisor. Vera, who entered her first year of college at Mount Holyoke in 1944, visited her father at Los Alamos during the summer months in 1944 and 1945. In her interview, she discusses the sense of freedom she felt in the secret city and talks about the fun she had on horseback riding adventures with her father.