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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Alfred Zeltmann’s Interview

Al Zeltmann grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After being drafted into the Army during World War II, he was assigned to the Special Engineer Detachment and arrived at Los Alamos in 1944. After the war, he stayed at Los Alamos, and worked as a physical chemist at the Los Alamos laboratory for nearly 40 years. In this interview, he recalls his Manhattan Project work, including on the “RaLa” experiments with Gerhart Friedlander, and describes the relationship between the military and civilians on “The Hill.” He also remembers receiving some unusual instructions from a mail censor after his wife complained he “wasn’t very warm” in his letters.

Louis Hempelmann’s Interview – Part 4

Louis Hempelmann worked as a doctor at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and was close friends with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses the other doctors at Los Alamos and their roles, including his own occasional role as anesthetist. He recalls visiting a radium dial plant in Boston to observe how the company protected its workers from radiation, and how they adopted similar practices at Los Alamos.

Gerhart Friedlander’s Interview

German-American chemist Gerhart Friedlander fled Nazi persecution in 1936. He studied at the University of California with Glenn Seaborg, earning his Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry in 1942. The following year, he joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and became group leader of the radioactive lanthanum group in the Chemistry Division. After World War II, Friedlander worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory for many years and chaired the Chemistry Department. In this interview, he describes how Seaborg secretly involved him in plutonium work and how his group investigated the implosion method for the plutonium bomb. He also recalls winning a bet with Enrico Fermi.

Adrienne Lowry’s Interview

Adrienne Lowry arrived at Los Alamos in 1942 after her husband, radiochemist and co-discoverer of plutonium, Joseph Kennedy, was selected by J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the chemistry division at Los Alamos. Lowry recalls the early days of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, when construction was just beginning and housing remained scarce for many of the workers who had just arrived. Prior to the birth of her first child, Lowry helped carry mail between Los Alamos and Santa Fe. She recalls meeting many of the famous scientists who worked on the bomb, including Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi, Art Wahl, Glenn Seaborg, and Oppenheimer. When Arthur Compton offered Joseph Kennedy a position as the chair of the chemistry department at Washington University after the War, Lowry and her husband moved to St. Louis.

Glenn Seaborg’s Interview

Glenn Seaborg, winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and co-discoverer of plutonium, was in charge of the separation process for removing plutonium from irradiated uranium slugs at the University of Chicago during the Manhattan Project. In his interview, he discusses the pressure to obtain high yields of plutonium, and how he eventually decided on the bismuth phosphate process, which was extremely successful. Seaborg also describes the difficulty of recruiting top scientists to work on a top-secret project, as he was not allowed to explain the importance of his work unless they agreed to join.