Lawrence S. O’Rourke began working on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University after he was called up from the Army Reserves in 1944. O’Rourke was among the first group of SEDs who worked at Columbia, where he helped research and develop the gaseous diffusion process for the separation of uranium. After nine months, O’Rourke’s group moved from the Pupin Physics Lab to the Nash Garage Building, where they helped develop the barrier material that would be used at the K-25 plant in Oak Ridge.
[Many thanks to Jonathan Sheline for donating this video to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]
Raymond Sheline: This talk today gives me a certain amount of anxiety, because it’s different than any other chemistry talk I’ve ever given. First of all, it’s kind of autobiographical, and that’s always a little embarrassing. Secondly, it’s maybe more nearly the history of science than science itself. However, it is appropriate, because we’re just fifty years since the testing and dropping of the atom bomb in 1945.
Raymond Sheline was a chemist at Columbia University and a member of the Special Engineer Detachment at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos.
Sheline received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1949 and was a professor at Florida State University for 48 years. Among other accomplishments, he helped establish a nuclear chemistry lab at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and published more than 400 scientific papers. He died on February 10, 2016 in Fort Meyers, FL.
Nathaniel Weisenberg: My name is Nate Weisenberg. I’m here with Harris Mayer in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s October 11, 2017. My first question: if you could just say your name for the camera and spell it, please.
Harris Mayer: My name is Harris Mayer, H-a-r-r-i-s M-a-y-e-r.
Weisenberg: Thank you. I know you had a story that you wanted to begin with, so I will let you go ahead.
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation, and it is Wednesday, February 22, 2017. I’m in Encino, California. Maybe the first thing is say your name and spell it for us.
William Ginell: Okay. It’s William Seaman, S-E-A-M-A-N, Ginell, G-I-N-E-L-L.
Kelly: Great. Why don’t you start at the beginning? Tell us when you were born and where and a little bit about your childhood.
William Ginell is a physical chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview he describes how he became interested in chemistry and his experiences working at Columbia University and Oak Ridge, TN on the gaseous diffusion process. He reflects on the Army, living conditions, and the intense secrecy and security during the project. He also discusses his life after the war, especially his work at Brookhaven, Atomics International, and Douglas Aircraft.
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.
Margaret ("Chickie") Broderick was a chemist at MIT during the Manhattan Project. She was born Margaret McHugh in Boston, Massachusetts in 1921. Growing up, she was interested in chemistry. In 1944, she heard from a friend that the laboratories at MIT were looking for workers, and successfully applied for a job. Her sister, Betty, also worked in Cambridge on underwater sound technology.
Ruth Kerr Jakoby: My name is Dr. Ruth Kerr Jakoby. J-A-K-O-B-Y. I was born September 2, 1929. I am eighty-five years old. On September 2, I will be eighty-six.
Alex Wellerstein: My birthday is September 5, so we can both be Virgos together. Where were you born?
Jakoby: Palo Alto, California.
Wellerstein: You said you have a doctorate? What is your field in?
Wellerstein: Oh, wow!