Peter Vandervoort is an American astrophysicist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. In this interview, Vandervoort shares stories about the university’s role in the Manhattan Project. He describes in depth how different buildings on its campus were appropriated for the project. He later discusses his interactions with the university’s distinguished physics faculty members after the war, such as Nobel Prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who was Vandervoort’s Ph.D. advisor in the 1950s.
Chicago Met Lab
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. This is November 17, 2016, in Chicago, Illinois. I have with me Kennette Benedict, and the first thing I’m going to ask her is to say her name and spell it.
Kennette Benedict: Kennette Benedict. K-e-n-n-e-t-t-e, Benedict, B-e-n-e-d-i-c-t.
Kelly: Great. Thank you, Kennette, for being here. Why don’t we start with just a little something about who you are and why we’ve invited you here today.
Kennette Benedict is the Senior Advisor to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She served as the Bulletin’s Executive Director and Publisher from 2005 until her retirement in February 2015. In this interview, Benedict discusses the history of the Bulletin. She recalls the scientists and staff involved with the Bulletin over the years, and describes the role the magazine has played in providing scientists with a platform to inform the debate on nuclear policy and other global security issues.
Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Ruth Howes. I’m going to ask her to please say and spell her name.
Ruth Howes: I am Ruth Howes, and that’s R-u-t-h H-o-w-e-s.
Kelly: Ruth is a very distinguished historian of the Manhattan Project with a particular focus on women, women scientists. I’m going to ask her to talk about this and what she’s learned.
Martin Sherwin: In terms of the people who were invited in, I know [George] Kennan.
John Manley: That was for the Halloween meeting.
Sherwin: Yes. Do you remember anything about what Kennan said? What the impression he left was?
Martin Sherwin: Good afternoon, this is an interview with John Manley at the Red Onion restaurant, January 9th, 1985, Los Alamos, New Mexico.
John Manley: —whether you want to start that yet or not? I’m not at all sure in what way I can help you.
Sherwin: Well, I would like to write a book. [Laughter]
Manley: I would like somebody else to write a book with information I could supply.
Edwin McMillan: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start with two remarks. First, this is going to be a personal story, so if I use the first person singular, this is not pure egotism, it is simply the fact that that’s the part that I know best. Second remark is, the difficulty of establishing facts at such a late date, even of important things. During the Manhattan Project, of course, there was security impressed upon everyone, so very few people kept any notes.
Edwin and Elsie McMillan were among the first people to arrive at Los Alamos. Edwin, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was involved in the initial selection of Los Alamos. In this lecture, Edwin describes visiting Jemez Springs and Los Alamos when he, Oppenheimer, and General Groves were deciding on the site for the weapons laboratory. McMillan also discusses his involvement in the implosion research, the gun program, and recruiting scientists including Richard Feynman to the project.
Cynthia Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation, and it is Wednesday, August 24th, 2016. I am in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and with me is Dr. Baldwin Sawyer. My first question for him is to say his name and spell it.
Baldwin Sawyer: Baldwin Sawyer, B-a-l-d-w-i-n S-a-w-y-e-r. My initials are B.S, and in case anybody is wondering, that stands for Boy Scout.
Kelly: Well, that’s interesting. [Laughs] Can you tell us when and where you were born?
Baldwin Sawyer is an American metallurgist.
After graduating from Yale with a B.S. in Physics in 1943, Sawyer joined the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago. Working with Principal Metallurgist Frank Foote, Sawyer conducted research on uranium and assisted with developing the canning process for the uranium "slugs" used in the reactors at Hanford.