Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Jim Smith’s Interview

James L. Smith is a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). In this interview, Smith recalls his more than forty-year career at LANL. He describes some of the history of the Manhattan Project and LANL’s innovative work during the war through today, including work on the human genome, computing, and radiation detection. He emphasizes the importance of having multidisciplinary national laboratories to produce pioneering innovations and scientific discoveries. Smith also recalls his friendship with Edward Teller, who he was assigned to teach about superconductivity, and other Manhattan Project scientists including Nicholas Metropolis. He discusses Teller’s relationship with Oppenheimer and other scientists.

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.

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.

Haakon Chevalier’s Interview – Part 2

Haakon Chevalier was a French literature professor, author, and close friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer beginning at Berkeley in 1937. In this interview, Chevalier discusses aspects of Oppenheimer’s personal life, including his romantic relationships, hobbies, and religious views. He explains his own involvement in the Communist Party and Oppenheimer’s work on left-wing issues, and gives his thoughts on Oppenheimer’s security trial in 1954. Chevalier recalls first meeting Kitty Oppenheimer, and remembers her as a warm and friendly woman.

Haakon Chevalier’s Interview – Part 1

Haakon Chevalier was a French literature professor at Berkeley and close friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, Chevalier discusses aspects of Oppenheimer’s personal life, including his romantic relationships and family, hobbies including Sanskrit, and religious views. He recalls how Oppenheimer became involved in politics on the Berkeley campus. He also discusses who was present for his infamous conversation with Oppenheimer, in which Chevalier told Oppie he knew a way to pass scientific secrets to the Soviets. This conversation played a key role in Oppenheimer’s security trial in 1954.

Hans Bethe’s Interview (1982) – Part 2

Hans Bethe was a German-American physicist and Nobel Prize winner who was head of the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos. He played an important role in the development of the hydrogen fusion bomb. In this interview, Bethe explains why he opposed developing the hydrogen bomb and provides insight into the General Advisory Committee’s decision to pursue it. He also discusses nuclear proliferation, which scientists may have influenced J. Robert Oppenheimer’s thoughts on the hydrogen bomb, and the challenges of developing the H-bomb.

Ted Taylor’s Interview – Part 1

During World War II, Ted Taylor served on active duty in the United States Navy. In 1954, Taylor obtained his PhD in theoretical physics from Cornell University. From 1948-1956, Taylor worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), 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 his work on nuclear weapons, the expertise of his fellow scientists at LANL, and the secrecy surrounding fission bomb designs. He also recalls his interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, John Von Neumann, and other scientists.