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.
Reginald C. Augustine served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. In 1944, he was assigned to the Alsos Mission, the Manhattan Project’s counterintelligence mission in Europe to determine how far Nazi Germany had gotten on the path to building an atomic bomb. Augustine served under Colonel Boris Pash, and accompanied the Mission’s scientists in France and Germany. He also escorted some of the German scientists captured by the Allies to Farm Hall in England, including Otto Hahn. Augustine describes how the Mission also investigated German scientists, and recovered the world atomic standards. He also explains some of the logistics of the Alsos Mission and how they endeavored to keep from both the Germans and the Soviets the true nature of their work.
Michael Joseloff is an award-winning television producer and author of the book “Chasing Heisenberg.” In this interview Joseloff discusses the life and career of German physicist Werner Heisenberg and the German atomic bomb program during World War II. He provides an overview of the discovery of nuclear fission and impact in the United States and Germany. Joseloff describes the Alsos Mission, the Manhattan Project’s counterintelligence operation to determine how far along the German atomic bomb project was, and the people involved including Samuel Goudsmit and Boris Pash.
Astro Teller, co-founder of Alphabet subsidiary “X,” is the grandson of Edward Teller, the famous physicist often considered the father of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Astro recalls how Edward loved to read him fairy tales and play bridge – though Edward played competitively with Astro’s other grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gerard Debreu. He discusses Edward’s love of answering big scientific questions, his family life, and time at Los Alamos. Astro explains that Edward missed working on science when he became more involved in politics and military matters later in life, and how Edward tried to warn the world about climate change decades ago. Astro also explores parallels between Edward’s work, the Manhattan Project, and his own work at X, and talks about the importance of applied research.
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.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Peter Lax fled Nazi persecution and came to America with his family at the age of 15. Drafted into the Army when he was 18, he joined other émigré scientists and mathematicians in Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lax discusses his work as a member of the Manhattan Project’s Special Engineer Detachment and his mathematical contributions to the challenges of neutron transport, fluid dynamics, and shockwaves. He vividly describes what life was like at Los Alamos and offers keen insights on the revolutionizing development of scientific computing and atomic energy. He also recalls the many contributions of the Hungarian mathematicians and scientists at Los Alamos, who were nicknamed “the Martians.”
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.
In this interview, Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and founder of “Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog,” discusses the basic science behind the atomic bomb and explains the difference between the uranium “Little Boy” bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and the plutonium “Fat Man” bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. He also discusses Britain’s contribution to the Manhattan Project and provides a brief history of the German and Soviet atomic programs. Wellerstein also discusses the effects of nuclear fallout, including the short and long-term threats posed by radiation.
Robert Furman served as General Leslie Groves’ assistant on the building of the Pentagon and the Manhattan Project. As Chief of Foreign Intelligence in the Manhattan Project, he coordinated and was a part of the Alsos Mission, conducting epsionage missions across Europe to interrogate Italian and German scientists, locate uranium, and determine how far the Nazis had proceeded with their atomic bomb project. Furman also accompanied half of Little Boy’s uranium ore across the Pacific to Tinian aboard the doomed USS Indianapolis. After the war, Furman was sent on a special mission to Japan to investigate whether any efforts had been made by the Japanese to develop a nuclear weapon. Furman recalls General Leslie Groves’ determination and the scientists’ frustration over his emphasis on secrecy.