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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Roger Fulling’s Interview (1986) – Part 2

Roger Fulling served as a division superintendent in DuPont’s War Construction Program. In this interview, he discusses the priority that the Manhattan Project received in the industrial sector, especially with materials like aluminum. He talks about coordinating production with the armed forces, including General Douglas MacArthur. He explains how General Leslie R. Groves would intervene if a company was having difficulty acquiring materials or producing products to certain specifications. Fulling also mentions meeting some of the top scientists, including Eugene Wigner, who thought that scientists alone, not DuPont and their engineers, should work on the project, and how DuPont persuaded them otherwise. He remembers his interactions with General Groves after the war, and explains why Groves chose DuPont to work on the Manhattan Project.

Robert Bacher’s Interview – Part 2

In 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer recruited American physicist Robert Bacher to join the Manhattan Project as head of the experimental physics division at Los Alamos. Bacher went on to direct the bomb physics division at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1945, helping oversee the design of the implosion bomb, known as “Fat Man,” that was dropped on Nagasaki. In this interview, Bacher recalls how the Los Alamos laboratory was forced to shift gears from the gun-type design for the plutonium bomb to the implosion-type method. He also describes his post-war service as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission.

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.

Lawrence Bartell’s Interview

Before he had even graduated from college, Larry Bartell was interviewed by Glenn Seaborg to join Seaborg’s plutonium team at the University of Chicago. There he tested various ways of extracting plutonium from uranium that had been irradiated in a reactor. As he was exposed to high levels of radiation while working with the plutonium, he constantly set off the radiation detectors as he left the lab and had to avoid eating food with his hands. Bartell recalls the strict secrecy surrounding the Manhattan Project, remembers Seaborg, John Wheeler, and other luminaries, and discusses the chronology of the Manhattan Project. He also recalls sneaking into the Trinity test crater site area, where he was promptly arrested by the Army for trespassing. He went on to an illustrious career as professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan.

John Wheeler’s Interview (1986)

John Archibald Wheeler was the leading physicist in residence at Hanford. He solved the riddle of the B Reactor going dead a few hours after it started, an event that threatened to delay seriously the first production of plutonium. Early in his career at Princeton, in 1939, Wheeler and Danish physicist Niels Bohr collaborated to develop the first general theory of the mechanism of fission, which included identifying the nuclei most susceptible to fission, a landmark accomplishment that helped make Wheeler, at age 28, world fa­mous among nuclear physicists. After the war, at Los Alamos, he directed the group which produced the conceptual design for the first family of thermonuclear weapons. He became interested in astrophysics and coined the term “black holes.” In 1976, Wheeler joined the department of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was interviewed.

David Hall’s Interview

David Hall and his wife, Jane Hamilton, went as a team to Hanford. Also a physicist, she worked in the medical-safety division. In later years, he became head of the reactor division at Los Alamos and Jane Hamilton was the assistant director at Los Alamos. In this interview, Hall discusses his Manhattan Project work at the Chicago Met Lab and Hanford, and how he and his wife came to work at Los Alamos after the war.