The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Liane Russell's Interview

Liane Russell's Interview

Liane B. Russell is a renowned geneticist. Born in Vienna, Austria, she and her family managed to flee the country after its annexation by Nazi Germany. After moving to the United States, Russell became interested in biological research. In 1947, she and her husband, William L. Russell, moved to Oak Ridge. In this interview, Russell explains her experiments on the effects of radiation at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Mouse House,” including the discovery that the Y chromosome is sex-determining. She describes her work with the environmental movement and the efforts of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, which she co-founded. She also recalls winning the Enrico Fermi Award from the Department of Energy and a visit to communist East Germany in the 1980s.

Patricia Postma's Interview

Patricia Postma's Interview

Patricia “Pat” Postma arrived in Oak Ridge in 1943 when her father was recruited to join the Manhattan Project. She grew up in Oak Ridge and was a professor in the College of Business at the University of Tennessee. In this interview, she discusses her involvement in the effort to build Oak Ridge’s International Friendship Bell, a symbol of peace and reconciliation between the US and Japan. She discusses what the bell represents and some of the initial opposition to it. She also reflects on how living in Oak Ridge has shaped her and how she believes the “bell speaks to the values of this town.”

Bob Carter's Interview (2018)

Bob Carter's Interview (2018)

Robert Carter spent a year and a half as a graduate student at Purdue University before being recruited to work for the Manhattan Project. At Los Alamos, Carter’s team, which included his close friend Joan Hinton, worked on the research reactor. Eventually, Carter and Hinton came to work closely with Enrico Fermi, who became a mentor and friend to the two of them. Carter fondly recounts his dinners and hikes with Hinton and Fermi, both at Los Alamos and after. After the war, Carter enrolled in graduate courses at University of Illinois before returning to Los Alamos for fifteen years. For the rest of his career, Carter worked for various government agencies before retiring. Carter also discusses his friend Harry Daghlian and advising prominent physicist George Gamow on a project.

Helene Langevin-Joliot's Interview

Hélène Langevin-Joliot's Interview

Hélène Langevin-Joliot is a French nuclear physicist. She is the granddaughter of Nobel Prize winning physicists Marie and Pierre Curie and the daughter of Nobel Prize winners Irène and Frederic Joliot-Curie. In this interview, she discusses the challenges Marie and Pierre overcame to study science, and their scientific collaboration that led to their discovery of polonium and radium. Langevin-Joliot discusses her parents’ contributions to the global development of nuclear physics during the 1930s, their decision to remain in France during the Nazi Occupation, and Frederic’s role leading the postwar French Atomic Energy Commission. Langevin-Joliot concludes by addressing her own experiences in the field of nuclear physics, particularly the difficulties of being a woman in science.

Robert S. Norris's Interview (2018)

Robert S. Norris's Interview (2018)

Robert S. Norris is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and is the author of the definitive biography of General Leslie Groves. In this interview, Norris provides an overview of the French atomic program, describing the influence of Marie Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie. He goes on to explain how nations, including the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France, became nuclear powers in the context of the Cold War. He also discusses current debates over nuclear weapons. Norris provides insight into the creation of the 509th Composite Group, and the U.S. decision to use the atomic bombs in Japan.

Trisha Pritikin's Interview

Trisha Pritikin's Interview

Trisha Pritikin was born and lived ten years in Richland, Washington, just a few miles away from the Hanford Site. Her father worked in the 100 Area at Hanford, overseeing some of the reactors, while her mom worked as a secretary at Hanford. In her interview, Pritikin recalls her love of Richland at a young age and describes the happiness of many of the people there. At age 18, she began to develop health complications which she believes to be caused by childhood exposure to radioactive iodine and other radionuclides released from chemical separations at Hanford. Pritikin discusses how drastically her health situation deteriorated because of an undiagnosed autoimmune thyroid disorder (Hashimoto’s disease), and related health issues, and how she became a lawyer in spite of the disabling health issues she faced. She provides an overview of the decades-long Hanford Downwinder litigation efforts and her advocacy for justice for Hanford's Downwinders, the children of Hanford workers, and others exposed to Hanford’s airborne and Columbia River radiation releases.

Tony Essaye's Interview

Tony Essaye's Interview

Tony Essaye discusses his life and fascinating career in this interview. He was born in London, England but grew up in the U.S. after being evacuated during World War II. He joined ROTC during his college years at Georgetown and was stationed in Japan during the 1950s. Essaye went on to become a lawyer and served as a counsel for the Peace Corps under Sargent Shriver. He was one of the lawyers who represented the Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers cases; actor Zach Woods portrays Essaye in the 2017 film “The Post.” He went on to work in a legal capacity for various political campaigns and politicians, including for Walter Mondale and Bill and Hillary Clinton. He also co-founded the International Senior Lawyers Project. In this interview, he offers his reflections on his career as well as major political events.

Avner Cohen's Interview

Avner Cohen's Interview

Avner Cohen is an Israeli-American historian and a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. His 1998 book, Israel and the Bomb, is the definitive historical work to date on the Israeli nuclear program. In this interview, Cohen discusses his professional background and the difficult process of writing about the development of nuclear weapons in Israel. He explains the policy of opacity or amimut regarding the nuclear program, as well as the role of the United States and France in supporting the program. Cohen describes the origin of Israel’s nuclear weapons development, including the influence of the Manhattan Project; how Israel’s nascent nuclear program may have played a role in the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; and the 1979 Vela Incident. Cohen also discusses Franco-Israeli nuclear cooperation and the development of the French nuclear program.

Ruth Huddleston's Interview

Ruth Huddleston's Interview

Ruth Huddleston was born in Windrock, Tennessee. During the Manhattan Project, she got a job at Oak Ridge as a cubicle operator or “Calutron girl” at the Y-12 Plant. In this interview, she recounts her experiences at Y-12. She describes the bus ride to Oak Ridge, operating the calutrons, and the emphasis on secrecy. She recalls how she had mixed feelings after learning about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and talks about her career as a teacher and guidance counselor.

Garret Martin's Interview

Garret Martin's Interview

Garret Martin is a professor at American University’s School of International Service and is the author of "General de Gaulle's Cold War: Challenging American Hegemony, 1963-68." In this interview, Martin discusses the rise of French President Charles de Gaulle and France’s decision to build an atomic bomb. He also elaborates on the Franco-American relationship, the changing role of France in NATO, and the impact of the Algerian War and the French nuclear tests in Algeria. Martin concludes with an evaluation of nuclear weapons and energy in France today.

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