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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Siegfried Hecker’s Interview (2018)

Siegfried Hecker is an American nuclear scientist who served as the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997. Today, he is professor emeritus (research) in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and a senior fellow emeritus at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. In this interview, Hecker describes how his family immigrated to the United States from Austria in 1956. He then discusses his time at Los Alamos, including his scientific work and directorship, which took place as the Cold War was coming to a close. Hecker reflects on the American-Russian collaboration funded by the Nunn-Lugar Act during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as the nuclear disarmament of former Soviet republics. He also notes the challenges that American and Russian nuclear scientists face in trying to collaborate today. Hecker also discusses his work on China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and North Korea, where he made seven trips between 2004 and 2010.

Krik Krikorian’s Interview

Nerses “Krik” Krikorian was born in Turkey in 1921. He was brought to North America at the age of four, escaping the aftermath of the Armenian genocide. After graduating from college, Krikorian worked for Union Carbide in Niagara Falls, NY during World War II. In 1946, he was approached to work at Los Alamos to build polonium initiators for one year. He ended up staying in Los Alamos and even helped to write the charter to govern the town. In this interview, he remembers his childhood and experiences as the eldest son in an immigrant family. He also discusses his work at Los Alamos and his involvement in laboratory-to-laboratory cooperation with the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.

Peter Malmgren’s Interview

Peter Malmgren, an oral historian and cabinet maker, is the author of “Los Alamos Revisited: A Workers’ History,” which uses oral histories to tell the story of Los Alamos National Laboratory from the perspectives of the people who helped build and maintain it. Malmgren has been a resident of Chimayo, New Mexico since 1971. In this interview, he discusses some of the oral histories from his book and what he has learned about Los Alamos in the process. Malmgren describes interviewees’ perspectives on discrimination, health and safety, and working conditions. He also describes how the interviews have informed his own views of the Los Alamos laboratory.

Richard Garwin’s Interview

Richard Garwin is an American physicist. In this interview he begins by discussing his work with Enrico Fermi after the Second World War. He then discusses the development of the hydrogen bomb and the role he played in its design. He also talks about his work at IBM in the 1950s, specifically IBM’s research on radar systems and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). Garwin concludes the interview with a discussion on nuclear security. He shares his views on nuclear arms reduction and how to create a nuclear-free world.

Esequiel Salazar’s Interview

Esequiel Salazar worked at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project as a carpenter and a rod-man assisting surveyors for the Robert E. McKee Company. After the war, Salazar deployed as a soldier to occupied Japan and had a long career with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Combined, he and his wife contributed 100 years of service to the Los Alamos laboratory. In this interview, Salazar highlights the essential work of Hispano workers and other laboratory employees during and after the Manhattan Project. He touches on the politics surrounding contractors and labor during Los Alamos’s early years, and shares his thoughts on the Trinity Test and bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also discusses his sons’ work at LANL and Sandia National Laboratories.

Floy Agnes Lee’s Interview

Floy Agnes Lee was one of the few Pueblo Indians to work as a technician at the Los Alamos laboratory during the Manhattan Project. As a hematologist, she collected blood from Manhattan Project scientists, including from Louis Slotin and Alvin Graves after the criticality accident that exposed Slotin to a fatal amount of radiation. After working at Los Alamos, she transferred to the Chicago Met Lab, and later Argonne National Laboratory and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While working and caring for her daughter Patricia as a single mother, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Over the course of her long career, she conducted research on the impact of radiation on chromosomes. In this interview, Lee recalls her interactions with Slotin and Graves after the accident and playing tennis with Enrico Fermi. Her parents were Pueblo and White, and she discusses how that has shaped her life. She also describes visiting her family at the Santa Clara Pueblo and her ancestors’ involvement in the politics of the Pueblo.

Jay Shelton’s Interview

Jay Shelton is an American physicist and science and math teacher. In this interview, he recalls his experiences from nearly three decades as a high school teacher in Northern New Mexico. He provides an overview of how radiation works and how alpha, beta, and gamma rays differ. Shelton explains the health risks associated with radiation and stresses the importance of quantitative analyses of risks from certain radiation sources. He argues that the general public often overplays many of these risks. He also goes over changes in public perception towards radiation. For example, he points out that radiation was believed to have health benefits prior to the 1930s. Throughout the interview, Shelton describes how a variety of scientific instruments work, including Geiger counters and oscilloscopes, and expounds on the importance of a hands-on approach in science education. He also discusses his personal collection of scientific artifacts, including Revigators and other nuclear-related objects.

Nick Salazar’s Interview

Nick Salazar is a longtime Los Alamos National Laboratory employee and New Mexico State Representative. He has remained close to Los Alamos his entire career, from spending his high school summers as a mess hall attendant during the Manhattan Project to becoming a member of the laboratory’s Board of Governors. In this interview, he discusses his numerous experiences with the laboratory, including his 42-year career as a research scientist and his goal of improving relations between the laboratory and northern New Mexico’s communities. He also recalls traveling to the Savannah River Site as part of Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines’s famous experiment that discovered the neutrino.

Lydia Martinez’s Interview (2009)

Lydia Martinez, from the neighboring community of El Rancho, worked at Los Alamos in various jobs during and after the Manhattan Project. She first worked as a baby-sitter and housekeeper for families such as the Fermis, Tellers, and Critchfields. She was also a junior technician in the X-7 group. After the war, she remained at Los Alamos National Laboratory, working in various units and finally retiring as a property administrative specialist. In this interview, she remembers her duties at Los Alamos and what it was like to be one of the younger women who worked there. She describes how she continued to keep ties with various families over the years, and recalls how she received the Laboratory’s Distinguished Performance Award.

Norris Bradbury’s Interview – Part 2

Norris Bradbury worked as a physicist on the Manhattan Project and served as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1945-1970. In this interview, he recalls the challenges of running LANL and how he admired the way J. Robert Oppenheimer had managed it during the war. He explains the decision behind moving ahead with developing the hydrogen bomb, and why Oppenheimer opposed it. Bradbury recalls how the transfer of nuclear weapons control from military to civilian hands went, and how he and his staff interfaced with the Atomic Energy Commission. He also discusses the personality and legacy of Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, and Edward Teller.