This program was recorded at the 25th anniversary of the construction of the B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, in Hanford, WA. Leading Manhattan Project scientists, including Glenn Seaborg, John Wheeler, Lombard Squires, and Norman Hilberry, as well as its military leaders, General Leslie R. Groves and Colonel Franklin Matthias, participated in the ceremony. They discussed the start of the Manhattan Project, how the reactor’s site was chosen, the challenges of building the reactor and the chemical separations plant, and the different processes that were considered to separate plutonium. They also recalled the relationship between the military and civilian scientists and why they became involved in the Manhattan Project to help win World War II. They philosophized on the significance of nuclear power and its potential for future projects, from agriculture to space exploration.
Dr. Raymond Grills was a DuPont physical chemist who worked at the University of Chicago Met Lab and later at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. While at Hanford, he was one of two men who invented the canning process that sealed uranium slugs for use in Hanford’s water-cooled nuclear reactors. In this interview, he describes the challenges and pressures he and his colleagues had to overcome, and explains why the canning had to be designed perfectly. He also describes humorous encounters with a machinist and a railroad porter while transporting uranium slugs.
Haakon Chevalier was a French literature professor at Berkeley and close friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, Chevalier discusses aspects of Oppenheimer’s personal life, including his romantic relationships and family, hobbies including Sanskrit, and religious views. He recalls how Oppenheimer became involved in politics on the Berkeley campus. He also discusses who was present for his infamous conversation with Oppenheimer, in which Chevalier told Oppie he knew a way to pass scientific secrets to the Soviets. This conversation played a key role in Oppenheimer's security trial in 1954.
John DeWire was a physicist who was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. In this interview, DeWire discusses how he was recruited, the move to Los Alamos, the organization and administration at Los Alamos, and the unusual speed with which scientists could procure items. He explains how he came to work at Princeton, and his involvement after the war in opposing Lewis Strauss’s nomination for Secretary of Commerce. He recalls what made Oppenheimer such an effective leader.
Donald Ross worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of California-Berkeley and the Y-12 Plant for Tennessee Eastman. In this interview, Ross discusses supervising “Calutron girls” at Y-12. He explains how the electromagnetic separation process for separating uranium isotopes work, and recalls the tight security at Oak Ridge. Ross also describes the social life at Oak Ridge, meeting his wife, and the terrible food in the mess halls. He discusses his views on dropping the bomb on Japan and how his thoughts have changed over time.
Crawford Greenewalt, Jr., was an archeologist and the son of Crawford Greenewalt, a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company. The elder Greenewalt was assigned to act as a liaison between the physicists at the Chicago Met Lab and the engineers at Hanford, who were constructing the B Reactor. He went on to become the President of DuPont, and was renowned for his interest in photography, birds, and other scientific endeavors. Crawford Jr. discusses his family’s lineage, his father’s education and career, and his father’s busy schedule during the war. He also recalls the comfortable family breakfasts and his parents’ love for music and dancing.
German-American chemist Gerhart Friedlander fled Nazi persecution in 1936. He studied at the University of California with Glenn Seaborg, earning his Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry in 1942. The following year, he joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and became group leader of the radioactive lanthanum group in the Chemistry Division. After World War II, Friedlander worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory for many years and chaired the Chemistry Department. In this interview, he describes how Seaborg secretly involved him in plutonium work and how his group investigated the implosion method for the plutonium bomb. He also recalls winning a bet with Enrico Fermi.
Ernest Tremmel was a civil engineer who worked on the Manhattan Project for the Army Corps of Engineers, as a purchasing officer. He went on to work for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for many years and as a nuclear energy consultant. In this interview, Tremmel discusses the secrecy of the Manhattan Project and how he learned the goal of the project. He recalls interacting with General Leslie R. Groves, Admiral Hyman Rickover, and other AEC commissioners as well as directors of energy companies. Tremmel explains what made this period, and the quest to build nuclear reactors, so exciting. He also remembers witnessing a nuclear bomb test after the war.
Nancy Greenewalt Frederick is the oldest child of Crawford Greenewalt, a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company. He was assigned to act as a liaison between the physicists at the Chicago Met Lab and the engineers at Hanford, who were constructing the B Reactor. He went on to become the President of DuPont, and was renowned for his interest in photography, birds, and other scientific endeavors. Frederick discusses her father’s wide-ranging interests, his passion for his job, and the activities he enjoyed pursuing with his wife, family, and friends.
Dr. Clarence Larson, a chemist, began working under Ernest O. Lawrence in his lab at the University of California, Berkeley in 1942. In 1943, he moved to Oak Ridge and was appointed head of technical staff for the Tennessee Eastman Corporation. He later served as director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and as a commissioner on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. During the Manhattan Project, Larson designed a process to recover and purify uranium deposits from the walls of calutron receivers at the Y-12 Plant. In this interview, he explains the importance of this innovation in producing enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb. He also describes the challenges encountered in the Y-12 Plant’s early days, as well as Lawrence’s leadership skills and unyielding confidence.