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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Dunell Cohn’s Interview

Dunell Cohn was born in Oak Ridge in 1944. Cohn’s father, Waldo, was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project in Chicago in 1942 for his work on radioisotopes at Berkeley and Harvard during the 1930s. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Oak Ridge, where he developed a method to separate the fission products from the nuclear reactor. He also pioneered the radioisotope program at Oak Ridge, producing radioisotopes in large quantities that could then be used for medical and biological research. Dunell recalls what it was like growing up as a child at Oak Ridge and describes his father’s effort to desegregate the town by integrating the public school system. He also remembers his father’s love for music and his role in creating Oak Ridge’s symphony orchestra.

Orville Hill’s Interview

Chemist Orville Hill joined the Met Lab at the University of Chicago in May of 1942, three months after it was created. After a stint at Oak Ridge, he went to Hanford in 1944. At Hanford, he worked to improve the plutonium separation process. After the war, he worked at Los Alamos and was tasked with studying bomb debris from the Bikini atomic bomb tests. Eventually, he returned to Hanford looking for a better way to separate plutonium from irradiated uranium. In this interview, he recalls his first days at Chicago and remembers meeting Enrico Fermi. He describes the excitement and pressure of the Manhattan Project: “We were on the frontiers. We were doing things that I hadn’t dreamed of doing even a year before.”

Jack Miller’s Interview

Jack Miller came to Richland, Washington as an employee of Remington Arms, a munitions manufacturer operated by the DuPont Company. In 1944, he was assigned to work in the control room at Hanford’s B Reactor and was eventually promoted to the rank of Chief Reactor Operator. His position required both confidence and an acute attention to detail, as his work was often measured in tenths of inches. Over the course of his time at Hanford, Miller became intimately acquainted with the reactor and its inner workings. He shares this knowledge in his interview, specifically focusing the design and engineering of the reactor itself, the water cooling system, and the transportation process by which irradiated rods were moved for plutonium extraction. He explains the elaborate safety procedures reactor operators and others working close to the B Reactor underwent to avoid radiation.

James A. Schoke’s Interview (2013)

James A. Schoke was selected to be part of the Special Engineer Detachment that worked at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago on the Manhattan Project. He worked for the instrument group, inventing instruments to detect uranium, alpha rays, and more. He went on to a successful career in nucleonics and instruments, and was featured in a 1949 Popular Mechanics article, “The Million-Dollar Baby of the Nuclear Age.” He recalls playing tennis with Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer asking him to call him “Oppie.”