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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

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.

Norris Bradbury’s Interview – Part 1

Norris Bradbury was an American physicist and director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1945-1970. During the Manhattan Project, Bradbury directed the implosion field test program and helped prepare the “Gadget” for the Trinity test. In this interview, Bradbury explains why he was selected to work at Los Alamos, and discusses his work on the plutonium implosion bomb. He recalls his interactions with Manhattan Project leaders J. Robert Oppenheimer, George Kistiakowsky, and Admiral Deak Parsons. Bradbury watched over the “Gadget” at the top of the Trinity test tower to ensure that no one “monkeyed” around with it. He remembers his surprise when Oppenheimer picked him to take over as director of the laboratory, and the challenges he had to overcome to keep the lab up and running.

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.

Charles Critchfield’s Interview

Charles Critchfield was a mathematical physicist assigned to work on the development of gun-type fission weapons, and eventually implosion-type weapons, at Los Alamos. He returned to Los Alamos in 1952 to work on the development of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Critchfield explores the personalities of his fellow Manhattan Project scientists, including Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Niels Bohr, as well as their personal and professional conflicts. He also discusses the difficulties he faced first in the design of the atomic bomb, then in the design of the hydrogen bomb, especially regarding the Initiator.

Rex Edward Keller’s Interview

In his interview, Rex Edward Keller recalls his journey from Dexter, Missouri to Los Alamos, where he joined several of his childhood friends as well as his brother, Keaton Keller. In the summer of 1943, he arrived in New Mexico as a civilian worker, but was later drafted as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. Keller worked in the Chemistry Division and later in Seth Neddermeyer’s implosion group, testing the explosives. He remembers the social life of the community in Los Alamos and the relationships between the civilian scientists and the military officials involved in the project.

John Manley’s Interview (1965) – Part 1

John Manley was a nuclear physicist who originally worked in John Dunning’s group at Columbia. In his interview, he describes how he later moved to Los Alamos, where he was in charge of a group making measurements for the reflector on the bomb. He also served as secretary of the general advisory committee until he left Los Alamos. He recalls recruiting experimental physicists to come to Los Alamos, and working with Seth Neddermeyer, Hans Bethe, and other scientists.

George Kistiakowsky’s Interview

Dr. George Kistiakowsky was a Ukranian-American physical chemist whose contribution to the Manhattan Project included the design of the explosive lenses for the implosion-type bomb. He emigrated to the United States in 1926 and was the head of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) before going to Los Alamos as the leader of the Explosives Division. Following the war, Kistiakowsky served as a prominent scientific advisor to the White House across many administrations. In this interview, author Richard Rhodes and Kistiakowsky discuss life at Los Alamos, the relationships between many of the scientists of the Manhattan Project, and Kistiakowsky’s contributions after the war.

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Interview

In this rare interview, J. Robert Oppenheimer talks about the organization of the Manhattan Project and some of the scientists that he helped to recruit during the earliest days of the project. Oppenheimer discusses some of the biggest challenges that scientists faced during the project, including developing a sound method for implosion and purifying plutonium, which he declares was the most difficult aspect of the project. He discusses the chronology of the project and his first conversation with General Leslie Groves. Oppenheimer recalls his daily routine at Los Alamos, including taking his son Peter to nursery school.