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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Inge-Juliana Sackmann Christy’s Interview

Inge-Juliana Sackmann Christy is a physicist and author. She was born in Germany in 1942 and immigrated to Canada in the 1950s. She later married physicist Robert Christy, who was an important member of the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Sackmann Christy describes details from her early life, how she met Robert Christy, the personalities of famous Caltech scientists such as Richard Feynman, and German physicists’ perspectives on the atomic bomb.

Harris Mayer’s Interview

Harris Mayer is an American physicist. A student of both Edward Teller and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, he worked at Columbia University during the Manhattan Project. He moved to Los Alamos in 1947 to work at the Los Alamos laboratory, and his early work contributed to the development of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Mayer discusses his close friendships with other scientists and his work on the Operation Greenhouse nuclear tests. He shares stories about Teller, Frederick Reines, and Richard Feynman, and recalls attempting to mediate the conflict between Teller and Hans Bethe.

Martin Mandelberg’s Interview

Dr. Martin Mandelberg is an engineer who is writing a biography on his doctoral advisor, Manhattan Project mathematician Richard Hamming. In this interview, Mandelberg discusses his work at General Dynamics, the Naval Underwater Sound Lab, SAIC, the Defense Department, and other jobs. He provides an overview of Hamming’s life and career, highlighting Hamming’s many important contributions to computing at Los Alamos and Bell Labs, and Hamming’s passion for solving big problems. Mandelberg also praises Hamming’s mentorship of his graduate students.

Stanley Hall’s Interview

W. Stanley Hall was eighteen years old when he was recruited to work as a machinist on the cyclotron, first at Princeton University and later at the Los Alamos Laboratory. He worked at Los Alamos as a civilian, then later was drafted and worked as part of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, he describes both his work and recreational experiences during the Manhattan Project. He witnessed the Trinity Test from a location ten miles away. Hall describes hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” play over the radio at the moment of the Trinity Test and the color and the noise of the explosion. Hall also talks about taking advantage of the hiking, fishing, and horseback riding opportunities around him, including some trouble he encountered walking Kitty Oppenheimer’s horse. He provides an overview of his forty-year-long career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked for the computing group.

Louis Hempelmann’s Interview – Part 3

Louis Hempelmann was J. Robert Oppenheimer’s physician and close friend. In this interview, he discusses the hierarchy at Los Alamos, what it was like to work with Kitty Oppenheimer, and Kitty and Robert’s relationship. He recalls his interactions with Oppie, Enrico and Laura Fermi, and Edward Teller, and the parties that Oppenheimer and others used to throw at Los Alamos. Hempelmann remembers driving to Trinity Site with George Kistiakowsky and the high explosives—on Friday the 13th.

Carl D. Anderson’s Interview

Carl D. Anderson was a physicist who won a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the positron. He studied and taught at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he took a class with a young professor named J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses his impressions of Oppenheimer, including Oppenheimer’s early struggles as a teacher. Anderson describes the research that was going on at Caltech during the 1930s, including the groundwork that went into his Nobel-winning discovery. He also details why he turned down a role on the Manhattan Project, and the work he did on rockets during World War II instead.

Edwin McMillan’s Lecture

Edwin and Elsie McMillan were among the first people to arrive at Los Alamos. Edwin, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was involved in the initial selection of Los Alamos. In this lecture, Edwin describes visiting Jemez Springs and Los Alamos when he, Oppenheimer, and General Groves were deciding on the site for the weapons laboratory. McMillan also discusses his involvement in implosion research, the gun program, and recruiting scientists including Richard Feynman to the project at Princeton University. He also remembers requisitioning Harvard’s cyclotron for the Manhattan Project.

Joseph Rotblat’s Interview

Joseph Rotblat was a British-naturalized Polish physicist, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and founder of the Pugwash Conferences. Rotblat and his friend James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, conducted early research on the atomic bomb in England, and both joined the British Mission at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project. Rotblat left the Manhattan Project on grounds of conscience in late 1944 when it became clear Germany was not close to developing an atomic bomb—the only scientist to leave the project for moral reasons. In this interview, he discusses his personal and professional relationships with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and the Chadwick family. He also provides insight into the intense security measures in place at Los Alamos, as well as the nature of British involvement at the site. Perhaps most intriguing is Roblat’s discussion of his decision to leave Los Alamos, spurred on by his growing concern that the nuclear weapons being created were also meant for the Soviet Union, and his anxiety over a postwar arms race. In a lighter vein, Rotblat also recalls his work as a technical advisor on the 1980 miniseries “Oppenheimer.”

Louis Hempelmann Interview – Part 1

Louis Hempelmann was a doctor and radiologist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He was a close friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty, and their children. In this interview, Hempelmann explains how and why he was recruited for the Manhattan Project. He recalls an early conference there on the bomb at which Edward Teller was criticized for his obsession with the hydrogen bomb. Hempelmann remembers going horseback riding with Oppenheimer and Kitty, and watching their children during the Atomic Energy Commission hearing that resulted in Oppie’s security clearance being revoked.

Gerhart Friedlander’s Interview

German-American chemist Gerhart Friedlander fled Nazi persecution in 1936. He studied at the University of California with Glenn Seaborg, earning his Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry in 1942. The following year, he joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and became group leader of the radioactive lanthanum group in the Chemistry Division. After World War II, Friedlander worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory for many years and chaired the Chemistry Department. In this interview, he describes how Seaborg secretly involved him in plutonium work and how his group investigated the implosion method for the plutonium bomb. He also recalls winning a bet with Enrico Fermi.