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.
[Thanks to David Schiferl and Willie Atencio for recording this interview and providing a copy to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]
Willie Atencio: All right. Mr. Nick Salazar, we want to interview you because we know you remember a lot of things about Los Alamos. Can you first tell us the first time you went to Los Alamos?
Nick Salazar: As an employee?
Martin Sherwin: In terms of the people who were invited in, I know [George] Kennan.
John Manley: That was for the Halloween meeting.
Sherwin: Yes. Do you remember anything about what Kennan said? What the impression he left was?
Martin Sherwin: Good afternoon, this is an interview with John Manley at the Red Onion restaurant, January 9th, 1985, Los Alamos, New Mexico.
John Manley: —whether you want to start that yet or not? I’m not at all sure in what way I can help you.
Sherwin: Well, I would like to write a book. [Laughter]
Manley: I would like somebody else to write a book with information I could supply.
Cindy Kelly: Okay, I am Cindy Kelly. This is Tuesday, August 9, 2016 in Berkeley, California. I have with me Dr. Geoffrey Chew. My first question to him is to say and spell his name.
Geoffrey Chew: Geoffrey Chew, G-E-O-F-F-R-E-Y C-H-E-W.
Kelly: Very good, so now we will move on to some harder stuff. If you could tell us when you were born and where, and a little bit about your own childhood.
Owen Gingerich: This is an interview between Owen Gingerich and Robert Wilson. You use your middle initial. It’s Robert R.?
Robert Wilson: Yes, usually.
Gingerich: Robert R. Wilson, who is a builder of high energy accelerators and who was one of the physicists at Los Alamos. We are speaking today in Philadelphia, where we both happen to be for the American Philosophical Society. It’s April 22. No, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday. It’s April 23. That’s the documentation for the day.
Owen Gingerich: Professor Roy Glauber is a physicist, a physicist who had an early start in physics because when he was still an undergraduate at Harvard, it was during World War II. A mysterious caller knocked on his dormitory door, and asked him if he would want to participate in some unspecified kind of scientific war work. He ended up going to Los Alamos as one of the youngest scientists in that scientific community working to make the atomic bomb. Of course there in Los Alamos, Robert Oppenheimer was the director.
Lee DuBridge: So, yeah, we thought it was an exciting time to have the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission]. We knew, of course, that they were going ahead with the weapon development, but also they were going to support Brookhaven and other research centers around the country. So, no, I think those of us who were not imminently in the Manhattan District, but aware of it, were quite excited about getting in and finding out more about really what was going on and what the new possibilities were, both in physics and in weapon technology.
Martin Sherwin: Okay, this is the middle of an interview with Norris Bradbury.
Norris Bradbury: The fact that I wasn’t particularly involved in these discussions, of the type which the Federation of Atomic Scientists started—they started here, of course. I suppose I was committed to running a laboratory and trying to get people to stay here, while I was not uncommitted to international control of nuclear weapons, for heaven’s sakes. No one could be.
Martin Sherwin: You mentioned a point that others have mentioned that intrigue me: [J. Robert] Oppenheimer’s summer in Corsica. You said that Oppenheimer had once told you that reading [Marcel] Proust’s Memory of Things Past was one of the great experiences of his life.
Haakon Chevalier: Yes.
Sherwin: I have two questions about that. One, could you elaborate on that? Anything that you recall he said and why. The second has to do with whether you know anything else about that summer in Corsica.