Eric Pierce is a senior scientist and leader of the Earth Sciences Group in the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Born in New Orleans, Pierce has a Ph.D in low-temperature geochemistry from Tulane University. In this interview, Pierce describes some of the work of his team at Oak Ridge, including how contaminants and energy production byproducts such as mercury move through the environment. He provides an overview of the important mercury research and discoveries scientists have made at ORNL, and speaks to the collaborative and dynamic nature of ORNL as a workplace.
CJ Mitchell grew up in northeastern Texas. In this interview, he describes moving to Hanford after graduating from high school in 1947. Only sixteen years old, Mitchell took a job working on the trailer park in North Richland, and worked on other construction projects. At first, he lived in a tent with his relatives in East Pasco. He eventually studied at Columbia Basin College and got a job at one of General Electric’s Hanford laboratories as an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) specialist. He describes the racism he encountered in the Tri-Cities area and how segregation and the Great Migration impacted him and his family. Mitchell, an avid sports enthusiast and coach, was also famous in the Northwest for his work as a sports official.
Ronald E. Mickens is a physicist who currently teaches at Clark Atlanta University. He is a prominent voice in the African-American scientific community, and has written several works documenting the feats of previous black physicists. He was friendly with several African-American scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, including J. Ernest Wilkins, and describes their careers and the racism they faced. Mickens also discusses his own career, the importance of curiosity to scientific research, and the challenges African-American scientists have had to overcome to pursue their research.
Zane Bell is a senior scientist and physicist who works in radiation detection and scintillator development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In his interview, Bell discusses his education and career at Oak Ridge. He provides an in-depth discussion on the use of scintillators, and how they work. Bell explains some nuanced differences between the elements and isotopes used to make each scintillator, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. He also explains the practical applications for scintillators and how they are used in different scientific and medical fields today.
Raymond Sheline was a chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, 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. In this lecture, Sheline discusses how he initially joined the Manhattan Project, his work on gaseous diffusion at Columbia University under Nobel Prize winner Harold Urey and how he became a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. He also delves into the history of nuclear physics, providing an overview of key discoveries and personalities including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller.
Robert “Bob” Krauss is the Official Historian of the 509th Composite Group. He and his wife, Amelia Krauss, published The 509th Remembered, which profiles the service members of the 509th Composite Group and the events that surrounded the group and its role in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this interview, Krauss discusses how he became interested in collecting and preserving the history of the 509th and became the official historian for the 509th CG. He also narrates the stories of airmen from the 509th Composite Group and recounts his relationship with some of the airmen, including Donald Albury, Ray Gallagher, Fred Olivi, Paul Tibbets, and others. He reflects on the atomic bombings, the legacy of the Manhattan Project, and visiting some of the Manhattan Project sites today.
Norris Jernigan served in the 509th Composite Group at Wendover, UT, and Tinian Island during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Jernigan describes being assigned to the Intelligence Office of the 393rd Bomb Squadron. As a clerk, he prepared information for briefing missions and typed subsequent reports. He recalls his surprise at being transferred to Wendover and learning that the 393rd had been selected to be part of a top-secret project. Jernigan discusses what it was like serving on Tinian, the relationships between the different squadrons, and the atmosphere of the island during and between the atomic bombings of Japan. He remembers the intense secrecy surrounding the work at Wendover, the friendships he made, and the shock of spending time in sunny Cuba for training after the cold Utah winter. He also describes seeing the Enola Gay in pieces in 1980 before it was restored by the Smithsonian, and reflects on the atomic bombings and the Manhattan Project’s legacy for today.
David Holcomb is a nuclear engineer who specializes in instrumentation and controls for the molten salt reactors at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In this interview, Holcomb discusses his background as a scientist, and recalls his interaction with great minds that worked at Oak Ridge. He explains the differences between molten salt reactors and traditional light-water reactors, and advocates for increased usage of the molten salt reactors in the future. Holcomb closes by promoting nuclear energy on a worldwide scale, discussing the positive benefits it can bring to impoverished nations.
Julie Ezold is a nuclear engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She directs a project in the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center that uses the High Flux Isotope Reactor to create californium-252. In this interview, Ezold describes the project and how the Reactor is used to create californium-252 and other elements. She explains the importance of sustained research into element and isotope production in the future, and also provides insight into the practical application of this work. Ezold also explains how she became interested in science as a teenager, and what it is like to be a woman scientist working on nuclear issues.
Bill Wilcox was an original resident of Oak Ridge, TN, and served as the Official Historian for the City of Oak Ridge, TN. A chemistry graduate from Washington & Lee University in 1943, he was hired by the Tennessee Eastman Company on a secret project in an unknown location he and his friends nicknamed "Dogpatch." He worked with uranium, which was referred to only by its codename "Tuballoy." Wilcox worked at Y-12 for five years and then at K-25 for 20 years, retiring as Technical Director for Union Carbide Nuclear Division. Wilcox actively promoted preservation of the "Secret City" history through the Oak Ridge Heritage & Preservation Association and by founding the Partnership for K-25 Preservation. He also published several books on Oak Ridge, including a history of Y-12 and "Opening the Gates of the Secret City."