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?
Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly, I’m in Alexandria, Virginia. It is January 9th, 2017. I have with me Milton Levenson. My first question to him is to please say his name and then spell it.
Levenson: My name is Milton Levenson. No middle name. M-i-l-t-o-n, and Levenson is L-e-v-e-n-s-o-n.
Kelly: Terrific. At any rate, let’s begin with the beginning. Tell us, if you would, when you were born and where, and something about your childhood.
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, November 17, 2016, Chicago, Illinois. I have with me Henry Frisch. My first question for him is to say your name and spell it, please.
Henry Frisch: Okay. It’s Henry Frisch, F-r-i-s-c-h.
Kelly: Why don’t you tell us who you are?
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, and it is November 16, 2016. I’m in Chicago, Illinois with Roger Hildebrand. My first question for him is tell me your name and spell it, please.
Roger Hildebrand: My name is Roger Hildebrand, R-o-g-e-r H-i-l-d-e-b-r-a-n-d.
Kelly: Tell us what is your birthday and where were you born?
Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. It is November 17, 2016. I’m in Chicago, Illinois, and I’m with Peter Vandervoort. I would like first to ask Peter to say his name and spell it.
Peter Vandervoort: I am Peter Oliver Vandervoort. Vandervoort has now been spelled in an Americanized way, V-a-n-d-e-r-v-o-o-r-t.
Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Ruth Howes. I’m going to ask her to please say and spell her name.
Ruth Howes: I am Ruth Howes, and that’s R-u-t-h H-o-w-e-s.
Kelly: Ruth is a very distinguished historian of the Manhattan Project with a particular focus on women, women scientists. I’m going to ask her to talk about this and what she’s learned.
Louis Hempelmann: I do not think the people who came later were ever as close as the people who were there at the beginning.
Martin Sherwin: Did most of the people who came later, were they junior people? That is, younger? [Enrico] Fermi came later.
Hempelmann: [George] Kistiakowsky came later.
Sherwin: He did? When you say “earlier” and “later,” what dates are you talking about?
Martin Sherwin: What was the set-up at Los Alamos, in terms of your relationship to the director [J. Robert Oppenheimer] and how you operated?
Louis Hempelmann: I was working directly under him. I started out with my wife as a half-time secretary, and the technician I brought with me from St. Louis, and Kitty worked for me.
Sherwin: What did Kitty do for you?
Hempelmann: Did blood counts.
Sherwin: Was she a good technician?