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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

William J. Nicholson’s Interview

William J. Nicholson grew up in Chicago, with a strong interest in aviation and aeronautics. During the Manhattan Project he worked as an assistant at the Met Lab. He then served in the Army Air Force. In this interview, Nicholson discusses his childhood and school years spent in Chicago. He then explains how he joined the Manhattan Project out of high school. He recalls the secrecy of the work, and describes working with and machining uranium and other metals. Nicholson remembers Edward Creutz, Enrico Fermi, Walter Zinn, and other scientists he worked with. He explains why he wanted to leave Manhattan Project work to join the Air Force, and describes flying bombers over Europe and being shot down by the Germans. He ends by discussing his life and career after the war.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 4

The fourth and final part of the program details Fermi’s postwar work with the Institute of Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, and describes his outrage over the revocation of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance. Friends and colleagues recall his teaching style and boundless energy, and reflect on his character and personality. For his closest friends, his legacy extends beyond his remarkable scientific contributions. They remember his gift for teaching, simplicity, honesty, and lack of conceit. The program narrates the end of Fermi’s life, and concludes with an excerpt from his speech at the tenth anniversary of the operation of Chicago Pile-1.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 3

The men who worked alongside Fermi in Chicago, including Crawford Greenewalt, Herb Anderson, and Arthur Holly Compton, describe the construction of Chicago Pile Number One. They narrate the day of its first successful operation, December 2, 1942. Fermi’s meticulous measurements and accurate predictions are cited as primary factors in this achievement. The program also discusses Fermi’s evolving role in the Manhattan Project, including his trips to Hanford and his move to Los Alamos in 1944. Part 3 concludes with the morning of July 16, 1945, when Fermi witnessed – and measured the yield of – the Trinity Test.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 2

Laura Fermi discusses the family’s decision to leave Italy in 1938 in the wake of the government’s support for anti-Semitic laws. The program describes Enrico winning the Nobel Prize for Physics. Herb Anderson, Fermi’s associate at Columbia University in New York, remembers Fermi’s arrival to the city and move to Chicago to work in the Chicago Met Lab. Fermi explains how scientists agreed to keep the Manhattan Project secret. The interviewees also recall working on the Chicago Pile-1. Anderson, George Weil, and others also describe Fermi’s most distinctive qualities: his energy, willingness to collaborate, and informal approach.

Robert Nobles and William Sturm’s Interview – Part 1

William Sturm and Robert Nobles were physicists working under Enrico Fermi’s supervision at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. Both physicists worked with graphite and uranium ratios and arrangements in the Chicago Pile-1. In this interview, they recall the construction of Chicago Pile-1 and witnessing the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Sturm and Nobles discuss Fermi’s personality, noting his confidence and competence. They describe him as being one of the most brilliant physicists of his time, having knowledge of all fields of physics. The two also discuss the interactions between the different scientists on the project at Chicago and how their different personalities and specialties meshed together.

Darragh Nagle’s Interview

Darragh Nagle graduated from Columbia University and worked with Enrico Fermi and Herbert Anderson at the Chicago Pile during the early years of the Manhattan Project. Nagle then transferred to Los Alamos, where he joined the Omega Team and conducted criticality experiments. Nagle was also responsible for collecting soil samples after the atomic bomb test at the Trinity Site. Nagle discusses his friendship with Joan Hinton, one of the few female scientists at Los Alamos, and also shares stories about some of the other famous scientists who worked on the Manhattan project.