John Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer of contemporary classical music. Known for his operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, as well as for multiple orchestral works, Adams speaks here about Doctor Atomic, his 2005 opera set at Los Alamos in the weeks leading up to the Trinity Test. He describes the creation of the work and why he was initially hesitant to develop an opera around J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. He discusses its unusual libretto, which uses only words actually spoken or written by the people depicted in the opera, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, Leo Szilard, and Edward Teller.
Dr. James Hershberg is a leading scholar on Cold War history. In this interview, Hershberg explains in great detail the complex history of the Manhattan Project. He explores the scientific and political climate leading up to the Project, the symbolism and implications of the atomic bomb, and the feelings of various Manhattan Project scientists. He also explains the debate over developing the hydrogen bomb, different historical perspectives for explaining the Manhattan Project, James B. Conant’s recollections of witnessing the Trinity Test, and U.S./Soviet Union relations throughout the Cold War. Hershberg ends the interview by discussing how various nations have become nuclear powers, and how the Cold War and nuclear history are relevant today.
Jennet Conant is an author who has written extensively on the Manhattan Project and some of its most prominent figures. Some of her books include “The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington” and “Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist.” In this interview, Conant describes some of the stories she writes about in her book “109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos.” Specifically, she focuses on the life of Dorothy McKibbin, the “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos,” and her contributions to the Los Alamos laboratory during the war. She also discusses the Trinity Site, Klaus Fuchs’s espionage, and the stresses the Manhattan Project put on relationships between scientists and their families.
John Manley was a nuclear physicist who worked for the Manhattan Project from its early days. After the war, Manley served as the Executive Secretary of the General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and later also became Associate Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In this interview, Manley discusses how he came into these positions and reflects upon the relationship of the GAC and the AEC. He recalls Oppenheimer’s relationship with others on the GAC, including James B. Conant, and Oppenheimer’s leadership on the GAC.
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.
Charles Critchfield was a mathematical physicist assigned to work on the development of gun-type fission weapons, and eventually implosion-type weapons, at Los Alamos. He returned to Los Alamos in 1952 to work on the development of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Critchfield explores the personalities of his fellow Manhattan Project scientists, including Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Niels Bohr, as well as their personal and professional conflicts. He also discusses the difficulties he faced first in the design of the atomic bomb, then in the design of the hydrogen bomb, especially regarding the Initiator.
In the second part of his in-depth interview with journalist Stephane Groueff, General Kenneth Nichols discusses his key role in the Manhattan Project and the chain of command. He explains his relationship with fellow Manhattan Project directors General Leslie R. Groves, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and scientists Vannevar Bush and James B. Conant. Nichols recalls purchasing 1,200 tons of uranium ore from Belgian Edgar Sengier for the project and the challenges of developing a barrier for the gaseous diffusion plant. He also discusses financial accountability and Congressional oversight of the project.
Raemer Schreiber joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in November 1943, where he worked on the Water Boiler, an aqueous homogeneous reactor used to test critical mass. In 1945, Schreiber was transferred to the Gadget Division and was a member of the pit assembly team for the Trinity Test, watching the explosion from base camp. In this interview, Schreiber describes his time working on the water boiler reactor and in proving that the reaction of uranium could become self-sustaining. Schreiber also discusses the Trinity test and his role in escorting the second plutonium bomb core to Tinian.
Robert Serber was an American physicist. In 1941, Serber was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project. Serber was tasked with explaining the basic principles and goals of the project to all incoming scientific staff. Moving to Los Alamos in 1943, he gave lecturers to members of the Manhattan Project about the design and construction of atomic bombs. His lectures were known as the “Los Alamos Primer.” In this interview with Richard Rhodes, he discusses the decision to develop a hydrogen bomb. Serber also recalls Oppenheimer’s security hearing, the Chevalier conversation, and how the hearing changed Oppenheimer. Serber also explains why his loyalty was questioned by the government, and why the government was suspicious of his wife.
In this interview, General Leslie Groves discusses his relationship with Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who he had great respect for. Groves recalls several meetings with the Secretary, including one which required Groves’s advice on how to prevent a congressman from visiting Oak Ridge and threatening to unveil the top-secret Manhattan Project site to the Senate. Groves also recalls the shocking day that President Roosevelt died, the delay in notifying key people of Roosevelt’s passing, and how his death affected members of the War Department. He also explains his relations with other top military officials.