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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

Stanislaus Ulam’s Interview (1979)

Stanislaus Ulam was a Polish-American mathematician. He worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and later helped design the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, he discusses his work at Los Alamos and his relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, John von Neumann, Enrico Fermi, and other scientists. He also discusses Oppenheimer’s varied reputation within the physics community. In particular, Ulam was frustrated by Oppenheimer’s wordiness, which he and some other scientists perceived as pompous and superfluous. Ulam also explains his thoughts on creativity in math and physics, and why he is a proponent of nuclear power.

Peter Lax’s Interview

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Peter Lax fled Nazi persecution and came to America with his family at the age of 15. Drafted into the Army when he was 18, he joined other émigré scientists and mathematicians in Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lax discusses his work as a member of the Manhattan Project’s Special Engineer Detachment and his mathematical contributions to the challenges of neutron transport, fluid dynamics, and shockwaves. He vividly describes what life was like at Los Alamos and offers keen insights on the revolutionizing development of scientific computing and atomic energy. He also recalls the many contributions of the Hungarian mathematicians and scientists at Los Alamos, who were nicknamed “the Martians.”

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.

Stanislaus Ulam’s Interview (1983)

Stanislaus Ulam was a Polish mathematician recruited to the Manhattan Project in 1943. Ulam worked on hydrodynamical calculations that were crucial to the design of the implosion-type weapon created at Los Alamos. After the war Ulam collaborated with fellow Manhattan Project scientist Edward Teller to create the design for the hydrogen bomb. In this interview Ulam discusses the challenges of performing the equations needed to design a nuclear weapon without the help of computers. He also explores the ongoing tensions with his former partner, Edward Teller, over the origins of what has come to be called the Ulam-Teller design. Finally, Ulam reflects on the legacies of the both the Manhattan Project and the numerous scientists who made it possible.

George Kistiakowsky’s Interview

Dr. George Kistiakowsky was a Ukranian-American physical chemist whose contribution to the Manhattan Project included the design of the explosive lenses for the implosion-type bomb. He emigrated to the United States in 1926 and was the head of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) before going to Los Alamos as the leader of the Explosives Division. Following the war, Kistiakowsky served as a prominent scientific advisor to the White House across many administrations. In this interview, author Richard Rhodes and Kistiakowsky discuss life at Los Alamos, the relationships between many of the scientists of the Manhattan Project, and Kistiakowsky’s contributions after the war.

Nicholas Metropolis’ Interview

Nicholas Metropolis arrived in Los Alamos in 1943. Shortly after receiving his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago, Metropolis was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead efforts in computational research for the bomb. Working under Metropolis’ supervision were John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam. Metropolis recalls collaborating with von Neumann and Ulam and developing the Monte Carlo method. The Monte Carlo method is a statistical approach to solve many-body problems. Metropolis also recalls contributing to the development of the MANIAC I computer. Metropolis shares many stories regarding his research and his personal relationships with his colleagues.

Edward Teller’s Interview

Edward Teller, considered the father of the hydrogen bomb, was a key figure in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Teller goes into detail about his work on the implosion principle for the plutonium bomb and his work with John von Neumann. He recalls getting Einstein on board with the project in order to gain FDR’s approval. He talks about whether the bomb should have been first used in a demonstration for the Japan and whether he has any regrets.

Roy Glauber’s Interview (2013)

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. He journeyed from Stanta Fe Station in Lamy, New Mexico in a car with John von Neumann. Glauber worked in the theoretical division under Hans Bethe, and talks about Edward Teller, Richard Feynman, Stanislaus Ulam, and other luminaries. Glauber went on to become a leader in physics, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005 for his work on quantum optics. He also talks about his early interest in astronomy and physics, cultivated by clubs and teachers.