University of California-Berkeley
Elsie McMillan was the wife of Nobel Prize winner Edwin McMillan and sister-in-law of another Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Lawrence. She came to Los Alamos in 1943 with Edwin and their baby Ann. In her speech, she take the audience on an imaginary tour of Los Alamos, complete with detailed descriptions of various buildings and their home, today known as the Hans Bethe House. Her speech characterizes what civilian life was like at Los Alamos for the wives of many scientists, including the challenges of shopping with ration cards and dealing with the tight security.
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.
Harold Cherniss: Well, you see, I was married on January 1, 1929, in White Plains. When we went back to Berkeley, it was immediately after that that I met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer. This is the time in which he had come to Berkeley the autumn before, just about this time. Taught one term in Berkeley, one term at Caltech. That’s when I first met him, and I met him because my wife had known him when they were children.
Martin Sherwin: Your wife’s maiden name?
Harold Cherniss was an American Classicist. Upon his return from service in World War II, Cherniss accepted a teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley. It was here that he initially met. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, Cherniss reflects on his friendship with Oppenheimer and his experience with others who knew him. Among other subjects, he discusses Oppenheimer’s personality, intellectualism, friendships, and political leanings. He recalls Oppenheimer’s interest in literature, especially French poetry.
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.
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.
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.”