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.
Los Alamos, NM
Cindy Kelly: Okay, I am Cindy Kelly. This is Tuesday, August 9, 2016 in Berkeley, California. I have with me Dr. Geoffrey Chew. My first question to him is to say and spell his name.
Geoffrey Chew: Geoffrey Chew, G-E-O-F-F-R-E-Y C-H-E-W.
Kelly: Very good, so now we will move on to some harder stuff. If you could tell us when you were born and where, and a little bit about your own childhood.
Geoffrey Chew was an undergraduate studying physics at George Washington University when he assisted Washington Post journalist (and future children’s novelist) Jean Craighead in writing an article on atomic weapons. His professor, George Gamow, recommended that Chew join Edward Teller’s team at Los Alamos. At Los Alamos, Chew witnessed the Trinity Test from a nearby mountain and worked on Teller’s ideas for developing the hydrogen bomb. In graduate school, Chew was supervised by Enrico Fermi.
Robert Bacher: I presented this [the discovery of the neutron] in the seminar and there were a good many questions. Some people were skeptical. I convinced Ed Condon almost immediately. In fact, within the week we had written a note together on the spin of the neutron because you could work it out. This part of it fit into the things of nuclear spins, hyperfine structure, nuclear moments, and so on. A good many other people came around to it. I think more than half the people were convinced at that time.
Owen Gingerich: This is an interview between Owen Gingerich and Robert Wilson. You use your middle initial. It’s Robert R.?
Robert Wilson: Yes, usually.
Gingerich: Robert R. Wilson, who is a builder of high energy accelerators and who was one of the physicists at Los Alamos. We are speaking today in Philadelphia, where we both happen to be for the American Philosophical Society. It’s April 22. No, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday. It’s April 23. That’s the documentation for the day.
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. After the war, he became one of the few scientists to speak out against the bomb, and he helped organize the Association of Los Alamos Scientists (ALAS), which called for the international control of atomic energy.
[Many thanks to Thomas Scanlan for recording and donating this interview to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]
Thomas Scanlan: —Is part of an interview, which I held with Professor Marvin Wilkening at his home on Socorro, New Mexico on July 15, 1995.
Now, I was reading that you had worked at four different places associated with the Manhattan Project.
Marvin Wilkening: That’s right.
Scanlan: Was your first work with [Enrico] Fermi at Chicago?
Owen Gingerich: Professor Roy Glauber is a physicist, a physicist who had an early start in physics because when he was still an undergraduate at Harvard, it was during World War II. A mysterious caller knocked on his dormitory door, and asked him if he would want to participate in some unspecified kind of scientific war work. He ended up going to Los Alamos as one of the youngest scientists in that scientific community working to make the atomic bomb. Of course there in Los Alamos, Robert Oppenheimer was the director.
Martin Sherwin: Okay, this is the middle of an interview with Norris Bradbury.
Norris Bradbury: The fact that I wasn’t particularly involved in these discussions, of the type which the Federation of Atomic Scientists started—they started here, of course. I suppose I was committed to running a laboratory and trying to get people to stay here, while I was not uncommitted to international control of nuclear weapons, for heaven’s sakes. No one could be.
Louis Hempelmann: He [J. Robert Oppenheimer] just told me what the situation was. He did not ask me, which is the same thing when he got sick because I was in the radiology department here and I knew something about it. He would call me up, tell me what he had done, and then say “What do you think of it?” By that time, the only thing I could say was, “That was fine.”