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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Gordon Steele’s Interview

Gordon Steele was a chemist who began working at the Manhattan Project at the University of California, Berkeley, and was later transferred to the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge. He worked on separating uranium-235 using calutrons developed by Ernest Lawrence at UC Berkeley. In this interview Steele explores a variety of topics, from his work separating uranium isotopes to the realities of living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He recounts a trip to Georgia in which he and his friends purchased rum and other liquors to smuggle into Oak Ridge, a decidedly dry town during the war. He also discusses his coworkers, their chess games, and some mishaps in repairing the calutron machines.

Eleanor Irvine Davisson’s Interview

Eleanor Irvine Davisson was Ernest O. Lawrence’s secretary at the University of California at Berkeley. In her interview, she discusses her impressions of Dr. Lawrence beginning with the Manhattan Project up until his death in 1958. Irvine describes the professor as an extremely personable individual whose impatience, enthusiasm, and work ethic fueled his nonstop research. She mentions that he was both a family man and a dedicated scientist. She recalls meeting him for the first time, his boundless energy and dynamism, and his love of tennis.

Wallace Reynolds’s, Duane Sewell’s, and Elmer Kelly’s Interview

In this interview, Wallace Reynolds, Duane Sewell, and Elmer Kelly recount their Manhattan Project experiences at Berkeley and Oak Ridge. This trio was part of the first group to arrive at Oak Ridge. They discuss the difficulties and obstacles that surrounded the cyclotrons and isotope separation, remarking that there was never a doubt that the job could be done. They also talk about Ernest Lawrence’s role, describing him as a natural leader completely dedicated to the project.