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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Robert R. Wilson’s Interview

Robert R. Wilson was an American physicist. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where he first met Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer recruited Wilson and his entire group at Princeton to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos on the cyclotron. After arriving at Los Alamos in 1944, Wilson became head of the Research Division. In this interview, Wilson reflects on his time working with Oppie, including his personality, political views, and Oppenheimer’s unwillingness to engage him on the moral implications of building the bomb. He discusses Oppenheimer’s controversial security hearing and recalls how it affected Oppenheimer. Wilson recalls how he and other scientists fought against Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss’s appointment as Secretary of Commerce in retaliation for Strauss’s role in the hearing.

Edward Purcell’s Interview

Edward Purcell was an eminent physicist at Harvard who won the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics. He worked on microwave radiation at the MIT Rad Lab during World War II, and was involved in some of the Trinity test preparations. In this interview, he discusses his time with J. Robert Oppenheimer at Harvard University after the war, and the problems some tenured professors ran into after being accused of being communists. He also mentions Manhattan Project physicist Herbert York whom he praises for his own efforts to chronicle the same period as well as his work on the early American space program. Purcell recalls talking about Eisenhower’s election and the first successful hydrogen bomb test with Oppenheimer.