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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Alfred Nier’s Interview – Part 2

Dr. Alfred Nier was an American physicist well-known for his work on spectrometry. Nier designed the mass spectrometers used for Manhattan Project experiments and his instruments were sent to all of the major Project sites. With his mass spectrometer, Nier helped prove that that U-235 was fissile, not the more abundant isotope U-238. Nier worked for the Kellex Corporation to design and construct the apparatuses used to monitor the separation of Uranium-235 and Uranium-238, as well as leak detectors for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. In this interview, Nier discusses his early involvement in the Manhattan Project in New York and the transport of uranium between Project sites. He also discusses his experiences working at both the Nash Garage Building in New York City, and the K-25 Plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Gordon Steele’s Interview

Gordon Steele was a chemist who began working at the Manhattan Project at the University of California, Berkeley, and was later transferred to the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge. He worked on separating uranium-235 using calutrons developed by Ernest Lawrence at UC Berkeley. In this interview Steele explores a variety of topics, from his work separating uranium isotopes to the realities of living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He recounts a trip to Georgia in which he and his friends purchased rum and other liquors to smuggle into Oak Ridge, a decidedly dry town during the war. He also discusses his coworkers, their chess games, and some mishaps in repairing the calutron machines.