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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Hélène Langevin-Joliot’s Interview

Hélène Langevin-Joliot is a French nuclear physicist. She is the granddaughter of Nobel Prize winning physicists Marie and Pierre Curie and the daughter of Nobel Prize winners Irène and Frederic Joliot-Curie. In this interview, she discusses the challenges Marie and Pierre overcame to study science, and their scientific collaboration that led to their discovery of polonium and radium. Langevin-Joliot discusses her parents’ contributions to the global development of nuclear physics during the 1930s, their decision to remain in France during the Nazi Occupation, and Frederic’s role leading the postwar French Atomic Energy Commission. Langevin-Joliot concludes by addressing her own experiences in the field of nuclear physics, particularly the difficulties of being a woman in science.

Spencer Weart’s Interview

Spencer Weart is a historian of science. Originally trained as a physicist, Weart served for many years as director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland. In this interview, Weart discusses the French nuclear program, starting with its origins with Marie and Pierre Curie. He examines the prominent role of their daughter, Irene, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot, who together won a Nobel Prize in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. Irene and Frédéric’s work made enormous contributions to the development of nuclear physics during the late 1930s. Weart goes on to explain how, during World War II, key members of the French program became part of the Manhattan Project, as well as Joliot’s role in the French Resistance. He concludes with a discussion of the postwar nuclear program in France.

Philippe Halban’s Interview

Philippe Halban is a European biologist. His father, Hans Halban, was an eminent physicist who conducted nuclear research with Frédéric Joliot-Curie in France in the years leading to World War II and then in England and Canada as part of the Anglo-French nuclear effort. In this interview, Philippe provides an account of his father’s life, including Halban’s family, education, and love of science. He discusses his father’s relationships with fellow scientists, including Francis Perrin, Lew Kowarski, and Joliot-Curie. He also describes how his father and Kowarski fled France for England in June 1940 with France’s supply of heavy water to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.

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.