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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.

John Manley’s Interview (1985) – Part 1

John Manley was a nuclear physicist who worked for the Manhattan Project from its early days. After the war, Manley served as the Executive Secretary of the General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and later also became Associate Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In this interview, Manley discusses how he came into these positions and reflects upon the relationship of the GAC and the AEC. He recalls Oppenheimer’s relationship with others on the GAC, including James B. Conant, and Oppenheimer’s leadership on the GAC.

Robert Bacher’s Interview – Part 2

In 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer recruited American physicist Robert Bacher to join the Manhattan Project as head of the experimental physics division at Los Alamos. Bacher went on to direct the bomb physics division at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1945, helping oversee the design of the implosion bomb, known as “Fat Man,” that was dropped on Nagasaki. In this interview, Bacher recalls how the Los Alamos laboratory was forced to shift gears from the gun-type design for the plutonium bomb to the implosion-type method. He also describes his post-war service as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Lee DuBridge’s Interview – Part 2

Lee DuBridge is a prominent American physicist whose work at Caltech, Rochester, and MIT and the Atomic Energy Commission led to interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses how the AEC felt about testing the hydrogen bomb in context of the nuclear arms race, explaining why many members of the AEC’s General Advisory Committee were initially against moving ahead with a crash program on the hydrogen bomb. He also explains the confusion over using nuclear weapons tactically versus strategically. DuBridge recalls his efforts to support Oppenheimer during Oppie’s security hearing. Most notably, he remarks that as early as a year before the charges were brought against Oppenheimer, people were aware of trouble brewing for Oppie. DuBridge also remembers a visit he made to NATO headquarters with Oppenheimer, and how warmly Oppie was welcomed.

Jean Bacher’s Interview

Jean Dow Bacher was born in 1907, and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She married fellow Ann Arbor native and leading Manhattan Project scientist Robert Bacher in 1930. Jean was a “computer” at Los Alamos during the Project. In this interview, she describes the friendship her and her husband shared with the Oppenheimers, and their interactions with other scientists and their families at Los Alamos. Bacher recalls how observers who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “appalled and stunned” at the destruction there, and explains how J. Robert Oppenheimer and others at Los Alamos tried to come to terms with their work on the bomb. She recounts Oppenheimer’s anxiety about being under surveillance in the lead up to his security hearing. She also recalls Edward Teller’s habit of playing the piano late at night, and shares her impressions of Kitty Oppenheimer.

Lee DuBridge’s Interview – Part 1

Lee DuBridge was the founding director of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and later became the president of Caltech. In this interview, he describes his relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, beginning with the summer symposiums on theoretical physics at Ann Arbor, MI in the 1930s, where Oppenheimer lectured. DuBridge recalls the symposiums’ important role in facilitating fluid exchange of ideas in the tight-knit physicist community. During the war, DuBridge was asked by Oppenheimer to troubleshoot issues at Los Alamos, because of his experience with the Rad Lab. After the war, DuBridge and Oppenheimer both served on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. DuBridge remembers Oppenheimer’s great grasp of detail, his ability to quickly absorb technical papers, and his ability as a lecturer.

Albert Bartlett’s Interview

Albert Bartlett worked with mass spectrometers at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He was part of the group that photographed the Operations Crossroads nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll after the war. In this interview, he recalls his time at Los Alamos and his colleagues, including Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin, who would both die of criticality accidents. He discusses the significance of the colloquia that allowed scientists to share their research on the project. He also recalls fun times including skiing on Sawyer’s Hill, hiking, and dorm parties that used scientific materials to make the punch.

Rose Bethe’s Interview

Rose Bethe and her husband, Nobel Prize winner Hans Bethe, moved to Los Alamos in early 1943 when Hans was appointed leader of the Theoretical Division for the Manhattan Project. During the initial stages of the Project, Rose worked in the housing office, where she assigned incoming scientists and their families to houses and showed them where site facilities were located. When Rose became pregnant with her first child, Henry, she resigned her position to help physicist Bruno Rossi wire electronics boards. Mrs. Bethe recalls raising her children at Los Alamos and some of the relationships she developed with many of the project’s most famous scientists. She also discusses her childhood years in Germany and how the rise of Hitler forced her and many of her close friends to leave the country.