Yvonne Delamater: We are interviewing Felix De Paula for the Manhattan Project video. Thanks for coming here to give us an interview. Briefly tell me when and where you were born and something about your education and training.
Felix DePaula talks about his role as “garbage man” at Los Alamos and witnessing the Trinity test. He discusses everyday life at Los Alamos, from water problems to adopting a pet crow, and General Groves’ insistence that everyone work seven days a week. DePaula tells a funny story about accidentally flinging a snake right into the Mess Hall.
Jay Wechsler: Well, my mother was visiting her folks in New York when she decided that it was time, and I was the first child, and I guess she was a little surprised. So I was born in New York even though we didn’t live there. And as soon as we were able we were back in New Jersey, where she and my father lived. My father was a chemist and even at a young age he was always taking me into the plant where he worked, showing me things. And I kind of had a mechanical bend or bent.
George Cowan: It's weighted so heavily in favor—not in favor of—but the emphasis on number one Los Alamos, and then Oak Ridge, and then Hanford, as the three secret cities or something. But the fact is the Met Lab at Chicago was enormously important. The Stagg Field reactor was historic in ’42, and its sort of dismissed.
George Cowan joined the Manhattan Project in 1942 at the Met Lab as a chemist for Enrico Fermi’s group. He also worked for Columbia University and the Uranium Corporation of America in Manhattan. Cowan describes his experience working with famous scientists, such as Chien-Shiung Wu and Eugene Wigner, and gives a detailed account of his role in Operation Crossroads, the first military test of the atomic bomb against Navy ships.
Ben Diven: All right. I’m Ben Diven. That’s spelled D-I-V-E-N. I was born and raised in northern California, and I went to school in my hometown of Chico, and fortunately there was a state college there so I could start college in my hometown. I took the two and a half years of physics and mathematics that they taught there. And then, after a break of a couple years to save enough money to be able to go to Berkeley, I then transferred to University of California at Berkeley.
Ben Diven discusses helping set up Los Alamos for the Manhattan Project and working on instrumentation for the atomic bomb. He speaks highly of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s leadership abilities and the colloquium Oppenheimer began to allow all the scientists at Los Alamos to discuss problems and exchange ideas.
Rebecca Bradford Diven: All right. My name is Rebecca Bradford Diven, but I was mostly known as Becky Bradford Diven.
Cynthia Kelly: Great. Well, tell us about your background and what you were doing before the war.
Diven: Did you want—your outline said you wanted birth dates and where—
Kelly: Okay. Sure.