Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

The Search for Atomic Power

This 1954 radio program traces the development of nuclear energy from the discovery of the atomic nucleus to the launch of the USS “Nautilus,” the first nuclear submarine. It includes narration, dramatizations with actors playing physicists Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr, and interviews with Arthur H. Compton and Westinghouse Electric Corporation scientists. The program celebrates Westinghouse’s role in producing uranium for the Manhattan Project and details the challenges behind powering the Nautilus.

Sir Rudolf Peierls’s Interview

Sir Rudolf Peierls was a German-born physicist. He worked with Wolfgang Pauli in Switzerland, and moved to England when Hitler rose to power in 1933. In March 1940, Peierls and fellow colleague Otto Frisch co-authored the Frisch-Peierls memorandum, the first technical exposition of a practical atomic weapon. Peierls joined the British Mission and worked on the Manhattan Project in New York and Los Alamos. In this interview, Peierls discusses his work in atomic research and how the Frisch-Peierls memorandum was developed. He recalls going sailing with Oppenheimer, and how the scientists at Los Alamos respected Oppenheimer’s leadership.

Jay Wechsler’s Interview

Jay Wechsler, who enlisted in the Army in 1943 and spent several months at Oak Ridge working as an Army construction engineer, was suddenly transferred to Los Alamos in the winter of ‘43 where he began working directly with Otto Frisch. Wechsler helped Frisch work on a large fission chamber that Frisch had originally designed in Denmark and later shipped to the United States. He recalls Frisch’s brilliant intellect and knack for solving problems, and discusses their long-lasting friendship over the years. Wechsler also discusses his role as an explosives expert at Beta Site, testing what would later become the implosion system for the plutonium bomb. Wechsler also recounts details of Trinity Test and discusses his opinion on the use of the atomic bomb on Japan and the lasting impact of atomic weapons. After the war, Wechsler continued his weapons work for the government throughout the Cold War.