Bruce Cameron Reed is a physicist and a professor at Alma College. In this interview, he discusses a course he teaches at Alma about nuclear weapons and the Manhattan Project. He explains how he became interested in the physics and history of the Manhattan Project. He provides an overview of some of the challenges the Manhattan Project scientists faced and why uranium, plutonium, and polonium are so difficult to work with. Reed describes some of the innovations of the project, including the implosion design and lenses, the tamper, and the polonium initiator. He concludes by sharing his thoughts on some of the ethical issues related to nuclear weapons.
Nick Salazar is a longtime Los Alamos National Laboratory employee and New Mexico State Representative. He has remained close to Los Alamos his entire career, from spending his high school summers as a mess hall attendant during the Manhattan Project to becoming a member of the laboratory’s Board of Governors. In this interview, he discusses his numerous experiences with the laboratory, including his 42-year career as a research scientist and his goal of improving relations between the laboratory and northern New Mexico’s communities. He also recalls traveling to the Savannah River Site as part of Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines’s famous experiment that discovered the neutrino.
Lydia Martinez, from the neighboring community of El Rancho, worked at Los Alamos in various jobs during and after the Manhattan Project. She first worked as a baby-sitter and housekeeper for families such as the Fermis, Tellers, and Critchfields. She was also a junior technician in the X-7 group. After the war, she remained at Los Alamos National Laboratory, working in various units and finally retiring as a property administrative specialist. In this interview, she remembers her duties at Los Alamos and what it was like to be one of the younger women who worked there. She describes how she continued to keep ties with various families over the years, and recalls how she received the Laboratory’s Distinguished Performance Award.
Isabel Torres worked at Los Alamos during and after the Manhattan Project. She commuted from the neighboring community of Santa Cruz, first by truck, then by bus. She worked in the administration office and as a classified mail messenger. In this interview, Torres remembers how her job granted her access to different areas of the laboratory. She mentions interactions with soldiers and prominent scientists, including Edward Teller. She also describes working at S-Site as a technician, and recalls the poor condition of the roads.
Milton Levenson is an American chemical engineer and former president of the American Nuclear Society who has worked in the nuclear energy field for more than 60 years. During the Manhattan Project, he worked at Decatur, IL, and Oak Ridge, TN, where he was a supervisor at the X-10 plant. In this interview, he describes how he joined the Manhattan Project and his experiences at Oak Ridge, including his memories of segregation there. Levenson then talks about his post-war career as an expert on nuclear safety, including his role in responding to the SL-1, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl accidents. He also recalls having to tell Enrico Fermi that he could not perform an experiment for safety reasons.
Rachel Erlanger worked in a Kellex Corporation chemistry lab in New Jersey, where they researched gaseous diffusion barriers and other processes critical to the development of the K-25 plant. She got involved in the Manhattan Project when responding to an ad for Kellex. As a chemist, she recognized uranium-235 as the material used in an atomic bomb. In this interview, she describes how she got involved in the Manhattan Project, her excitement at contributing at that time, and how her attitude turned more negative after the war. She recalls her and her mother’s experiences during the prewar era and the pressure for women to marry and have children. She also briefly discusses her husband Bernard Erlanger, who also worked on the Manhattan Project.
Esther Vigil was living in the Española Valley with her family when Los Alamos was selected as a site for the Manhattan Project. She attended school at Los Alamos for several years. Both she and her mother worked at Los Alamos, babysitting for famous scientists like Edward Teller and Stanislaus Ulam. Vigil also worked for the Supply and Property Department. In this interview, she discusses not only her experiences at Los Alamos but also her later contributions to preserving local culture, a passion her mother also shared. She also explains how she helped preserve and reintroduce the tradition of colcha embroidery.
Russell E. Gackenbach was a navigator in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron. He flew on both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. His crew flew aboard the Necessary Evil, which was the camera plane for the Hiroshima mission. Gackenbach photographed the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. His crew flew again during the Nagasaki mission as the weather reconnaissance plane for the city of Kokura. In this interview, Gackenbach describes his wartime experiences, from enlisting in the service, to training in Wendover, UT and Cuba with the modified B-29s, to flying on both atomic bomb missions. He recalls the personalities of other members and leaders in the 509th, including Col. Paul Tibbets and his crew pilot, Capt. George Marquardt. He also describes his life after the war, including being honored at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game as their “hero of the day” and participating in 509th reunions around the country.
Rachel Bronson has served as the Executive Director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since February 2015. In this interview, she discusses the role the Bulletin plays today in informing the public on threats posed by nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies. She articulates Manhattan Project veteran and Bulletin co-founder Eugene Rabinowitch’s concerns about the “Pandora’s box of modern science.” She also describes an exhibit opening in May 2017 that the Bulletin is putting together in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Dr. Henry Frisch is a professor of physics at the University of Chicago. He is the son of David Frisch, who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. In this interview, Frisch discusses the University of Chicago’s role in the Manhattan Project and how leading figures at UChicago advocated for civilian control of atomic energy. He also shares some of his father’s stories from Los Alamos, and reflects on the challenges of addressing nuclear weapons today.