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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.

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.

Jim Sanborn’s Interview

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.

Richard Yalman’s Interview

Richard Yalman was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment and worked on polonium separation at the top-secret laboratories in Dayton, Ohio during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Yalman discusses his undergraduate work at Harvard University and how he came to be involved on the Manhattan Project. He elaborates on the degree of secrecy within the project location, stressing the separation of the four units at Dayton and how no one talked about their work. Yalman also describes his personal life, the scientists he worked with, how he met his wife, and his work after the war.

Mary Lou Curtis’s Interview

Mary Lou Curtis joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 and worked at the top-secret polonium production laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. Curtis developed new methods for counting and measuring polonium, which had only recently been discovered. In fact, it was Curtis who measured the polonium that went into the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. She also discusses the difficulties of being one of the few women scientists to work at the laboratory.

Mound Laboratory Panel Discussion

In this panel discussion, former Mound Laboratory employees discuss their experience working for Monsanto on the highly classified initiator program for nuclear weapons.

J. P. Moore’s Interview

J. P. Moore worked as a chemist for US Vanadium Company and then as Chief Chemist at Grand Junction, where he analyzed uranium. He worked for Union Carbide for forty years. He recalls Grand Junction’s social scene, including dancing lessons, and the emphasis on secrecy.

Max Gittler’s Interview

Max Gittler was working on his degree in mechanical engineering at NYU when he was drafted into the Army during World War II. He was sent to Oak Ridge, where he enjoyed the social activities, especially bowling. He and three other soldiers had the job of driving radioactive material from Oak Ridge to other Manhattan Project sites around the country, including Dayton, Chicago, Santa Fe (they were not allowed into Los Alamos), and the University of California-Berkeley. Although the radioactive material was encased in a small lead pot, it weighed nearly three thousand pounds. Gittler and the soldiers had to take turns driving in the truck with the material, so they would not be exposed to the radiation for too long.

George Mahfouz’s Interview

George Mahfouz became involved in the Manhattan Project first in Decatur, Illinois building gaseous diffusion tubes for the K-25 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Later, Mr. Mahfouz was involved in the Dayton Project, working on the process to make the trigger for the atomic bomb.