Jim Sanborn is an American sculptor known for works such as “Kryptos” at the CIA Headquarters in McLean, VA. In this interview, Sanborn discusses his exhibit “Critical Assembly,” which is now on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. The installation recreates the Manhattan Project scientists’ experiments at Los Alamos to determine when plutonium would go “critical” in an atomic bomb. Sanborn explains why he decided to do the project, and how he carefully created each piece of the exhibit. He describes some of the artifacts in the exhibit, including the physics package of the Trinity device and an oscilloscope, and where he found some of the materials and artifacts he used. Sanborn also discusses the Slotin accident, the urchin initiator, and other key scientific and engineering devices from the Manhattan Project.
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.
Peter Vandervoort is an American astrophysicist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. In this interview, Vandervoort shares stories about the university’s role in the Manhattan Project. He describes in depth how different buildings on its campus were appropriated for the project. He later discusses his interactions with the university’s distinguished physics faculty members after the war, such as Nobel Prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who was Vandervoort’s Ph.D. advisor in the 1950s. Vandervoort also talks about the university’s community outreach efforts through the years. He concludes the interview by discussing the contributions of women to physics.
Ruth Howes is professor emerita of physics and astronomy at Ball State University with an interest in the history of women physicists. She has researched and written on the role of female scientists in the Manhattan Project. Howes is the co-author of “Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project,” which tells the “hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.”
Dr. Alexander Langsdorf was an American physicist who worked under Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. He helped design the nuclear reactor Chicago Pile-2, following the success of Chicago Pile-1. After the war, Langsdorf become an outspoken opponent of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and helped found the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In this conversation with author Stephane Groueff, Langsdorf describes how he became involved in the Manhattan Project, his decision to stay in Chicago rather than go to Los Alamos, the genius of Enrico Fermi, and the process of designing and building a heavy water nuclear reactor. He discusses the personalities of many of his superiors, including Walter Zinn, Arthur Compton, Norman Hilberry, Samuel Allison, and Fermi.
Albert Bartlett worked with mass spectrometers at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He was part of the group that photographed the Operations Crossroads nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll after the war. In this interview, he recalls his time at Los Alamos and his colleagues, including Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin, who would both die of criticality accidents. He discusses the significance of the colloquia that allowed scientists to share their research on the project. He also recalls fun times including skiing on Sawyer’s Hill, hiking, and dorm parties that used scientific materials to make the punch.
In this interview, Peshkin discusses his time at Los Alamos working under Richard Feynman. He also talks about espionage and his personal connection with David Greenglass. Peshkin goes into moral questions surrounding the Manhattan Project and the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. Finally, he discusses the persecution of many of the Manhattan Project scientists as alleged communists, especially Phillip Morrison.
Richard Malenfant worked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for many years. He discusses the Louis Slotin accident and the measures that LANL has taken to ensure worker safety. He also explains the importance of preserving the historic sites at Los Alamos for future generations, including the Pond Cabin, the Slotin Building, and other key buildings. Malenfant also reviews the innovative work of the laboratory over the years.
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.
Raemer Schreiber worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project and after the war developing the hydrogen bomb and the Rover nuclear rocket program. In 1945, Schreiber was transferred to the Gadget Division and was a member of the pit assembly team for the Trinity Test, watching the explosion from base camp. He flew to Tinian Island with two plutonium hemispheres and helped assemble the Fat Man bomb used on Nagasaki. He witnessed the 1946 radiation accident that killed Louis Slotin, but was allowed to leave Los Alamos after being examined to go to Eniwetok for the Bikini test. He recalls the challenges that went into designing the hydrogen bomb, as well as the personalities of various scientists including Edward Teller and Norris Bradbury.