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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Thomas Mason’s Interview

Thomas (Thom) Mason is the President and CEO of Triad National Security, LLC and the director designate of Los Alamos National Laboratory. A condensed matter physicist, he previously served as the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2007-2017, and as Senior Vice President for Global Laboratory Operations at Battelle. In this interview, Mason describes some of the major scientific projects at Oak Ridge from the Manhattan Project to today, including the Spallation Neutron Source, nuclear reactor development, scientific computing, and nuclear nonproliferation efforts. He also explains why he believes that the science done at universities and national laboratories creates “a fertile ground” for innovation.

Philippe Halban’s Interview

Philippe Halban is a European biologist. His father, Hans Halban, was an eminent physicist who conducted nuclear research with Frédéric Joliot-Curie in France in the years leading to World War II and then in England and Canada as part of the Anglo-French nuclear effort. In this interview, Philippe provides an account of his father’s life, including Halban’s family, education, and love of science. He discusses his father’s relationships with fellow scientists, including Francis Perrin, Lew Kowarski, and Joliot-Curie. He also describes how his father and Kowarski fled France for England in June 1940 with France’s supply of heavy water to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.

Robert Nobles’s and William Sturm’s Interview – Part 2

Robert Nobles and William Sturm were physicists at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory. They contributed to the creation of experimental nuclear reactors, including the world’s first heavy water reactor, the Chicago Pile-3. In this interview with author Stephane Groueff, Sturm and Noble discuss the security of the bomb project in Chicago, and the movement of scientists between the different sites. They also recall Eugene Wigner’s graciousness, Leo Szilard’s excitability, and Walter Zinn and Enrico Fermi’s leadership styles. They praise the scientific community for its embrace of international cooperation and respect.

Alexander Langsdorf’s Interview

Dr. Alexander Langsdorf was an American physicist who worked under Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. He helped design the nuclear reactor Chicago Pile-2, following the success of Chicago Pile-1. After the war, Langsdorf become an outspoken opponent of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and helped found the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In this conversation with author Stephane Groueff, Langsdorf describes how he became involved in the Manhattan Project, his decision to stay in Chicago rather than go to Los Alamos, the genius of Enrico Fermi, and the process of designing and building a heavy water nuclear reactor. He discusses the personalities of many of his superiors, including Walter Zinn, Arthur Compton, Norman Hilberry, Samuel Allison, and Fermi.

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.

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.

Walter Simon’s Interview

Walt Simon was Hanford’s first Operations Manager. Before joining the Manhattan Project, he was Plant Manager at DuPont’s Wabash River Ordnance Works. He moved to Richland in the summer of 1944. He recalls the early “friction” between scientists, specifically Enrico Fermi, and the DuPont Company over the design of the B Reactor. He also recalls watching the B Reactor go critical and then shut down due to the Xenon poisoning. This interview does not have a corresponding audio recording.

Watson C. Warriner, Sr.’s Interview

Watson C. Warriner, Sr., a trained chemical engineer, worked for DuPont on the Manhattan Project. During the war he worked on building ordnance plants and acid plants, and helped design and build the chemical separation plants at Hanford (also known as the 221 T-plant or “Queen Marys”). He discusses the trains and cask car system used at Hanford and life in the dormitories on the secret site. He recalls going to New York City with his wife to celebrate V-J Day with thousands of other people crowded into the streets.