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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Phillip Broughton’s Interview

Phillip Broughton is a health physicist and Deputy Laser Safety Officer at the University of California, Berkeley. In this interview, he describes how he became a health physicist and the kind of work he does at Berkeley. He provides an overview of the buildings at Berkeley where Manhattan Project scientists worked during the war, and discusses some of the key scientists such as Glenn Seaborg. Broughton also recounts experiences from the year he spent working at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where in addition to serving as the science cryogenics handler, he also became the Station’s bartender.

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.

Roger Fulling’s Interview (1986) – Part 2

Roger Fulling served as a division superintendent in DuPont’s War Construction Program. In this interview, he discusses the priority that the Manhattan Project received in the industrial sector, especially with materials like aluminum. He talks about coordinating production with the armed forces, including General Douglas MacArthur. He explains how General Leslie R. Groves would intervene if a company was having difficulty acquiring materials or producing products to certain specifications. Fulling also mentions meeting some of the top scientists, including Eugene Wigner, who thought that scientists alone, not DuPont and their engineers, should work on the project, and how DuPont persuaded them otherwise. He remembers his interactions with General Groves after the war, and explains why Groves chose DuPont to work on the Manhattan Project.

Hanford 25th Anniversary Celebration

This program was recorded at the 25th anniversary of the construction of the B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, in Hanford, WA. Leading Manhattan Project scientists, including Glenn Seaborg, John Wheeler, Lombard Squires, and Norman Hilberry, as well as its military leaders, General Leslie R. Groves and Colonel Franklin Matthias, participated in the ceremony. They discussed the start of the Manhattan Project, how the reactor’s site was chosen, the challenges of building the reactor and the chemical separations plant, and the different processes that were considered to separate plutonium. They also recalled the relationship between the military and civilian scientists and why they became involved in the Manhattan Project to help win World War II. They philosophized on the significance of nuclear power and its potential for future projects, from agriculture to space exploration.

Gerhart Friedlander’s Interview

German-American chemist Gerhart Friedlander fled Nazi persecution in 1936. He studied at the University of California with Glenn Seaborg, earning his Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry in 1942. The following year, he joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and became group leader of the radioactive lanthanum group in the Chemistry Division. After World War II, Friedlander worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory for many years and chaired the Chemistry Department. In this interview, he describes how Seaborg secretly involved him in plutonium work and how his group investigated the implosion method for the plutonium bomb. He also recalls winning a bet with Enrico Fermi.

Ernest Tremmel’s Interview

Ernest Tremmel was a civil engineer who worked on the Manhattan Project for the Army Corps of Engineers, as a purchasing officer. He went on to work for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for many years and as a nuclear energy consultant. In this interview, Tremmel discusses the secrecy of the Manhattan Project and how he learned the goal of the project. He recalls interacting with General Leslie R. Groves, Admiral Hyman Rickover, and other AEC commissioners as well as directors of energy companies. Tremmel explains what made this period, and the quest to build nuclear reactors, so exciting. He also remembers witnessing a nuclear bomb test after the war.

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.

Isabella Karle’s Interview (2005)

The daughter of Polish immigrants, Isabella Karle had received her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees in physical chemistry from the University of Michigan by the time she was 22 in 1943. With her husband, Jerome Karle, a fellow student and scientist whom she married in 1942, Isabella became a pioneer in the field of science, starting with her work on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago in 1943. After the war, Isabella and Jerome began work on crystallography at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, where they were employed for over sixty years until their retirement in 2009. In this interview, Isabella discusses the career path she took after high school to become a chemist. She also explains how she came to work for the Manhattan Project in 1943, how she met her husband at the University of Michigan, and the successful careers of other scientists she worked with during the Manhattan Project.

Jerome Karle’s Interview

Jerome Karle worked on plutonium chemistry at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory during the Manhattan Project, along with his wife, Isabella. After the war, Jerome and Isabella worked for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for almost seventy years. Jerome was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1985. In this interview, Karle explains his chemistry work in the Manhattan Project. He recalls his friendship with Glenn Seaborg, and discusses his opinion on dropping the bombs on Japan.

Lew Kowarski’s Interview – Part 2

Lew Kowarski was a Russian-born French physicist who worked as part of the team that discovered that neutrons were emitted in the fission of uranium-235 in the late 1930s, setting the groundwork for the use of nuclear chain reactions in the design of the atomic bomb. After the Second World War, Kowarski went on to supervise the first French nuclear reactors and became a staff member in the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in 1953. In this interview Kowarski recounts his experience secretly transporting the French supply of heavy water to England to keep it out of Nazi hands. He also discusses his time working in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University with James Chadwick and other esteemed physicist. He also explains the Manhattan Project from a European perspective, including the increasing secrecy of the project.