William G. (“Bill”) Hudgins spent most of his childhood years in New Mexico. He first heard about a secret wartime laboratory at Los Alamos in 1943, when he was a student at the University of New Mexico. Hudgins joined the Manhattan Project after writing a letter to Dorothy McKibbin. After briefly being called away for Army training, he returned to Los Alamos as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. In this interview, he recalls interviewing for a job with McKibbin (who asked, “Where did you hear about me?”) and shares his memories of other Manhattan Project figures, including scientist Rebecca Bradford Diven and project historian David Hawkins. He also describes growing up in Santa Fe, and details the geologic and Native American history of the region.
The daughter of Polish immigrants, Isabella Karle had received her Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees in physical chemistry from the University of Michigan by the time she was 22 in 1943. With her husband, Jerome Karle, a fellow student and scientist whom she married in 1942, Isabella became a pioneer in the field of science, starting with her work on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago in 1943. After the war, Isabella and Jerome began work on crystallography at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, where they were employed for over sixty years until their retirement in 2009. In this interview, Isabella discusses the career path she took after high school to become a chemist. She also explains how she came to work for the Manhattan Project in 1943, how she met her husband at the University of Michigan, and the successful careers of other scientists she worked with during the Manhattan Project.
Jerome Karle worked on plutonium chemistry at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory during the Manhattan Project, along with his wife, Isabella. After the war, Jerome and Isabella worked for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for almost seventy years. Jerome was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1985. In this interview, Karle explains his chemistry work in the Manhattan Project. He recalls his friendship with Glenn Seaborg, and discusses his opinion on dropping the bombs on Japan.
Ralph Lapp was completing his PhD in physics at the University of Chicago when he joined the Manhattan Project. After the war, he worked for the War Department and served as a scientific advisor there before leaving the government to start his own firm. Lapp went on to write several books and advocate for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In this interview, he discusses how he stumbled upon Enrico Fermi’s team working under Stagg’s Field in December of 1942, and was hired on the spot to work on the development of the atomic bomb. Lapp recalls witnessing the 1946 Bikini nuclear tests, and discusses the controversy over the Lucky Dragon boat, caught into the fallout of one of 1954 Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test. He examines how nuclear weapons have changed the course of human history.
Robert Christy studied under J. Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley while earning his PhD in theoretical physics. He joined the Manhattan Project in February 1942 at the University of Chicago, and later relocated to Los Alamos when Oppenheimer personally recruited him on a visit to Chicago. At Los Alamos, Christy worked on the design of the water-boiler reactor. He was then recruited into the implosion group, where he designed the Christy gadget, the solid-core design of the plutonium bomb. He also witnessed the Trinity test. In this interview, he recalls what Oppenheimer was like as a professor and lecturer, his love for martinis, and his relations with graduate students. Christy discusses Oppenheimer’s role in the field of physics as a stimulator of ideas, and how it changed after his security trial. He also discusses Oppenheimer’s impact in emphasizing the value of theoretical physics in America. Christy remembers sharing a house with Edward Teller in Chicago and working with Klaus Fuchs and Rudolf Peierls.
Newton Stapleton worked for the legal department at DuPont when he was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project. He became responsible for security and secrecy at Hanford, WA. He describes the security procedures in place, including how background checks were conducted and badges were issued. He discusses the emphasis on secrecy and how DuPont’s leaders urged workers to keep quiet about their work. Stapleton recalls the challenge of getting a four-bedroom home in Richland and bringing his family out to Richland.
Lee DuBridge was the founding director of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and later became the president of Caltech. In this interview, he describes his relationship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, beginning with the summer symposiums on theoretical physics at Ann Arbor, MI in the 1930s, where Oppenheimer lectured. DuBridge recalls the symposiums’ important role in facilitating fluid exchange of ideas in the tight-knit physicist community. During the war, DuBridge was asked by Oppenheimer to troubleshoot issues at Los Alamos, because of his experience with the Rad Lab. After the war, DuBridge and Oppenheimer both served on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. DuBridge remembers Oppenheimer’s great grasp of detail, his ability to quickly absorb technical papers, and his ability as a lecturer.
Siegfried Hecker is an American scientist who served as the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997. He is currently Professor (Research) of Management Science and Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. His acceptance of the directorship of Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1986 was preceded by the Reykjavik Summit and unprecedented discussions of disarmament. In this interview, he discusses the obstacles to and immense gains from working with Russian nuclear scientists at the end of the Cold War. Specifically, he describes his involvement in the joint-verification experiments carried out in Nevada and at the Russian nuclear facility in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan.
Roger Rasmussen was an electrical engineer at Los Alamos and a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. During the Trinity test, he was assigned to evacuate local civilians if necessary. After the war, Rasmussen had a long career at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In this interview, he recounts his arrival at Los Alamos and details his memories of the Trinity test. He also discusses his postwar work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and recalls how Manhattan Project veterans were perceived after the war.
J.C. Hobbs was an American inventor and engineer who created a key part of the valves used in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Hobbs was brought on to the Manhattan Project by the head of the Kellex Corporation, Percival Keith, to improve the piping system in the K-25 plant. In this interview, Hobbs discusses his career in industrial engineering, the work environment in New York, and the development of the valves that proved crucial to the success of gaseous diffusion.