Dr. Henry Frisch is a professor of physics at the University of Chicago. He is the son of David Frisch, who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. In this interview, Frisch discusses the University of Chicago’s role in the Manhattan Project and how leading figures at UChicago advocated for civilian control of atomic energy. He also shares some of his father’s stories from Los Alamos, and reflects on the challenges of addressing nuclear weapons today.
Harold Cherniss was an American classicist. He initially met J. Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley in 1929, and they reconnected after the war in Berkeley and later at the Institute for Advanced Study. In this interview, Cherniss reflects on his friendship with Oppenheimer and his experience with others who knew him. Among other subjects, he discusses Oppenheimer’s personality, intellectualism, friendships, and political leanings. He recalls Oppenheimer’s interest in literature, especially French poetry. Cherniss explains how and why Oppenheimer became interested in studying Sanskrit – because Oppie loved a challenge.
Philip Abelson first became involved in uranium enrichment while a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley, working with cyclotrons under Ernest O. Lawrence. He explains how he came up with the idea that liquid thermal diffusion could enrich uranium-238 to U-235, how this process was implemented first at a factory at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and later at the S-50 Plant in Oak Ridge, and the important role the S-50 Plant played in the uranium enrichment process. He recalls his encounters with Lawrence, J. Robert Oppenheimer, William “Deak” Parsons, Edwin McMillan, Luis Alvarez, and other Manhattan Project leaders.
Walter Goodman was recruited into the Special Engineer Detachment at Los Alamos in 1943. Goodman worked as an electrical engineer on the implosion bomb and helped design equipment to measure the efficiency of an atomic blast. In July 1945, Goodman deployed to Tinian Island to help prepare the Fat Man bomb to be dropped on Japan. On August 9, 1945, he witnessed the bombing of Nagasaki from the instrumentation aircraft The Great Artiste and took motion pictures of the mushroom cloud above the city. In this interview, he recounts the Nagasaki mission and describes the disagreement between American and foreign-born scientists at Los Alamos about sharing information about atomic weapons.
Harold Agnew worked on the Manhattan Project at various locations and served as the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1970-1979. Agnew was flying above Hiroshima as a scientific observer when the bomb was dropped, and remembers “having the blast hit the airplane after the flash, the very bright flash.” He worked on the Chicago Pile-1 with Enrico Fermi, whom he calls “absolutely amazing.” He recalls how Oppenheimer’s penchant for treating everyone equally and General Leslie Groves’ incredible managing skills influenced camaraderie and the speed of the project. He defends dropping the bombs on Japan as saving many American, Japanese, and Chinese lives.