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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Richard Rhodes’ Interview (2018)

Richard Rhodes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” “The Twilight of the Bombs,” “Dark Sun,” and “Energy: A Human History,” as well as more than twenty other books. In this interview, Rhodes expounds on the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inevitability of discovering nuclear fission, the development of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear proliferation and the Cold War arms race, and the relationship between the Soviet Union and United States. He also discusses his play “Reykjavik,” based on the 1986 meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.

Astro Teller’s Interview

Astro Teller, co-founder of Alphabet subsidiary “X,” is the grandson of Edward Teller, the famous physicist often considered the father of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Astro recalls how Edward loved to read him fairy tales and play bridge – though Edward played competitively with Astro’s other grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gerard Debreu. He discusses Edward’s love of answering big scientific questions, his family life, and time at Los Alamos. Astro explains that Edward missed working on science when he became more involved in politics and military matters later in life, and how Edward tried to warn the world about climate change decades ago. Astro also explores parallels between Edward’s work, the Manhattan Project, and his own work at X, and talks about the importance of applied research.

Benjamin Bederson’s Interview (2018)

Benjamin Bederson worked at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Wendover, and Tinian on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Bederson describes his childhood in New York and in Russia, where he witnessed the impact of the famine in Ukraine, and his relief upon returning to the United States. He discusses his wartime work, including conducting experiments relating to Jumbo and the X unit switches for the Fat Man atomic bomb. He recalls some of the friends he made, including Peter Lax and William Spindel. During his time on the Manhattan Project, he also met Soviet spies Ted Hall and David Greenglass.

Richard Garwin’s Interview

Richard Garwin is an American physicist. In this interview he begins by discussing his work with Enrico Fermi after the Second World War. He then discusses the development of the hydrogen bomb and the role he played in its design. He also talks about his work at IBM in the 1950s, specifically IBM’s research on radar systems and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). Garwin concludes the interview with a discussion on nuclear security. He shares his views on nuclear arms reduction and how to create a nuclear-free world.

Martin J. Sherwin’s Interview

Martin J. Sherwin is a historian and professor at George Mason University, specializing in the development of atomic weapons and nuclear policy. With Kai Bird, Sherwin co-authored “American Prometheus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, Sherwin discusses Oppenheimer’s childhood, family life, and personality, including his love of the mountains of New Mexico, and his leadership at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He also discusses why Oppenheimer did not support building the hydrogen bomb. Sherwin reflects on the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arguing that the atomic bombs were not necessary to end the war with Japan.

Geoffrey Chew’s Interview

Geoffrey Chew was an undergraduate studying physics at George Washington University when he assisted Washington Post journalist (and future children’s novelist) Jean Craighead in writing an article on atomic weapons. His professor, George Gamow, recommended that Chew join Edward Teller’s team at Los Alamos. At Los Alamos, Chew witnessed the Trinity Test from a nearby mountain and worked on Teller’s ideas for developing the hydrogen bomb. In graduate school, Chew was supervised by Enrico Fermi. In this interview, Chew recounts his unique entrance to the Manhattan Project and his relationship with Edward Teller. He also recalls an incident when Fermi had trouble playing a game at a party, his conversation with an intelligence man on the Craighead article, and serving as John von Neumann’s “human computer.” Finally, Chew discusses his current research on the Big Bang.

Roy Glauber’s Interview

Roy Glauber was just eighteen years old when he was selected to leave his studies at Harvard to join the work of the Los Alamos Laboratory on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he would go on to lead a distinguished academic career, receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005. In this interview, Glauber discusses his interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos and later at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He explains why Oppenheimer was so admired by the scientists at Los Alamos and the qualities that made him an excellent director of the Los Alamos laboratory. Glauber also recalls Oppenheimer’s successes and challenges as director of the Institute for Advanced Study, his interactions with other scientists and mathematicians, and how having his security clearance revoked appeared to have broken him.

Lee DuBridge’s Interview – Part 2

Lee DuBridge is a prominent American physicist whose work at Caltech, Rochester, and MIT and the Atomic Energy Commission led to interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses how the AEC felt about testing the hydrogen bomb in context of the nuclear arms race, explaining why many members of the AEC’s General Advisory Committee were initially against moving ahead with a crash program on the hydrogen bomb. He also explains the confusion over using nuclear weapons tactically versus strategically. DuBridge recalls his efforts to support Oppenheimer during Oppie’s security hearing. Most notably, he remarks that as early as a year before the charges were brought against Oppenheimer, people were aware of trouble brewing for Oppie. DuBridge also remembers a visit he made to NATO headquarters with Oppenheimer, and how warmly Oppie was welcomed.

Ed Hammel’s Interview

Ed Hammel was a young physicist at Princeton University when he signed on to work for the Manhattan Project. Stationed at Los Alamos, he became involved with the site’s production of plutonium. He stayed at Los Alamos after the war and became involved in the hydrogen bomb program. In this interview, he discusses the early efforts to design the hydrogen bomb, the scientific innovations he and his colleagues developed at LANL, and why he decided not to work on the Ivy Mike shot.

Ted Taylor’s Interview – Part 4

From 1948-1956, Taylor worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, developing fission bombs of minimal size and maximal capacity. Later in life, while working for the Defense Department, Taylor began to realize the real-world implications and consequences of the bombs he developed. In this interview, he discusses the effect of the Korean War and the pressure to produce atomic weapons. Taylor elaborates on how he developed a great distrust of the nuclear industry, the politics of it, and way the process overstressed secrecy and lying. Finally, Taylor explains how he initially came to be a designer of nuclear weapons, and how he believes that fascination with nuclear weapons is like a disease.