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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Richard Rhodes’ Interview (2018)

Richard Rhodes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” “The Twilight of the Bombs,” “Dark Sun,” and “Energy: A Human History,” as well as more than twenty other books. In this interview, Rhodes expounds on the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inevitability of discovering nuclear fission, the development of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear proliferation and the Cold War arms race, and the relationship between the Soviet Union and United States. He also discusses his play “Reykjavik,” based on the 1986 meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.

George Cowan’s Interview (1993)

George Cowan was a physical chemist who joined the Manhattan Project in 1942. In this interview, Cowan discusses the Soviet atomic program and their effort to build a nuclear bomb. In 1949, he helped convince U.S. government officials that the radiochemistry of air samples taken from the atmosphere proved that the Soviets had detonated their own atomic bomb, rather than what many assumed was just a peaceful nuclear reactor problem. Cowan also discusses Operation Crossroads, where he helped take air samples during atomic tests at Eniwetok Atoll in 1946.

Hans Bethe’s Interview (1993)

Hans Bethe was a German-American physicist who was head of the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos. He played an important role in the development of the hydrogen fusion bomb, working alongside Edward Teller. In this interview, Bethe discusses espionage and Soviet spying during the Manhattan Project, explaining the impact Soviet spies including Harry Gold and Klaus Fuchs had on the USSR’s nuclear program. He and Rhodes discuss FBI security concerns of anyone with a European background, including Bethe and Teller. He also discusses the Soviet hydrogen bomb project, and explains his role in the post-war development of the hydrogen bomb in America.

Nicholas Metropolis’ Interview

Nicholas Metropolis arrived in Los Alamos in 1943. Shortly after receiving his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago, Metropolis was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead efforts in computational research for the bomb. Working under Metropolis’ supervision were John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam. Metropolis recalls collaborating with von Neumann and Ulam and developing the Monte Carlo method. The Monte Carlo method is a statistical approach to solve many-body problems. Metropolis also recalls contributing to the development of the MANIAC I computer. Metropolis shares many stories regarding his research and his personal relationships with his colleagues.