Martin Sherwin: This is an interview with Professor Carl Anderson at his home in Pasadena, California, March 31, 1983. This is Martin Sherwin. You first met him [J. Robert Oppenheimer]—
California Institute of Technology
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). In this interview, he discusses his impressions of J. Robert Oppenheimer, including Oppenheimer’s early struggles as a teacher. Anderson describes the work that was going on at Caltech at the time, including the groundwork that went into his Nobel-winning discovery. He also details how he turned down a role on the Manhattan Project, and the war work he did instead.
Lee DuBridge: So, yeah, we thought it was an exciting time to have the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission]. We knew, of course, that they were going ahead with the weapon development, but also they were going to support Brookhaven and other research centers around the country. So, no, I think those of us who were not imminently in the Manhattan District, but aware of it, were quite excited about getting in and finding out more about really what was going on and what the new possibilities were, both in physics and in weapon technology.
Martin Sherwin: This is Martin Sherwin. Today is March 29, 1983. I am going to interview Professor Robert F. Bacher – B-a-c-h-e-r – in his office on the Caltech campus in Pasadena.
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 directed 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 the initial conference of Los Alamos laboratory leadership in 1943 and describes Oppenheimer’s relationships with Enrico Fermi and General Leslie Groves.
Martin Sherwin: This is Martin Sherwin, I’m on my way to interview William Fowler at Caltech in Pasadena. Today is March 29, 1983.
William A. “Willie” Fowler was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Caltech, who knew J. Robert Oppenheimer from before the war. In this interview, he talks about how Oppenheimer and his “school” of students and post-docs would travel each year from the University of California, Berkeley to Caltech, where Oppenheimer had an appointment on the faculty. He describes how Oppenheimer’s theoretical knowledge and perspective supplemented the experimental research being conducted at Caltech, including Fowler’s own.
Martin Sherwin: You must have met the Oppenheimers when Murph [her husband, Marvin Goldberger] met them?
Mildred Goldberger: No.
Goldberger: No, Murph met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer quite early on, I think. Not during the war. But he was an early invitee to the Rochester Conferences. I am sure Oppenheimer was there. In any case, they were known to one another.
Sherwin: Right, I had known that in ’48—
Goldberger: Yeah, right.
Martin Sherwin: President Goldberger, Marvin Goldberger of California Institute of Technology at Caltech in Pasadena, March 28, 1983. This is Martin Sherwin.
This is something obviously I should have done three years ago back in Princeton when you had more time, etc.
Marvin Goldberger: That’s all right. I have plenty of time.
Sherwin: You first met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer after the war, right?
Marvin "Murph" Goldberger (1922-2014) was an American physicist who became President of Caltech and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study.
Goldberger's academic career began in 1943 when he received a B.S. in physics from Carnegie Mellon. A member of the Army Special Engineer Detachment (SED,) he ended up at the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago soon after. He spent two years working at the Met Lab as part of the Manhattan Project.