Martin Sherwin: This is Martin Sherwin. Today is March 29, 1983. I am going to interview Professor Robert F. Bacher – B-a-c-h-e-r – in his office on the Caltech campus in Pasadena.
University Involvement in the Manhattan Project
Martin Sherwin: I’m interviewing Robert Serber at his home in New York City. Date is January 9th, 1982.
Let me just begin at the beginning and ask you, how did you get to Berkeley? Why did you go there?
Serber: I got my degree at Wisconsin with [John] Van Vleck, and that was ’34. You didn’t have very many choices of what you can do. But I got a National Research Fellowship, which, if I recall, there were only five of them available that year. That was a year when the new membership of the American Physical Society was thirteen.
Alexandra Levy: We are here on June 13th in New Jersey with Jack Widowsky. This is Alex Levy with the Atomic Heritage Foundation. My first question for you, Jack, is to please say your name and to spell it.
Jack Widowsky: My name is Jack Widowsky. J-A-C-K, which is easy, but the last name is W-I-D-O-W-S-K-Y.
Levy: Can you please tell me where you were born and when?
Widowsky: I was born in Newark, New Jersey, on September 10, 1922.
Martin Sherwin: At the Stanhope Hotel in New York, June 15th, 1979.
David Bohm: I met him in about 1941. I went to Caltech to do graduate work, and I wasn’t very satisfied there. It was much too limited technically.
Sherwin: Where did you do your undergraduate work?
Martin Sherwin: You must have met the Oppenheimers when Murph [her husband, Marvin Goldberger] met them?
Mildred Goldberger: No.
Goldberger: No, Murph met [J. Robert] Oppenheimer quite early on, I think. Not during the war. But he was an early invitee to the Rochester Conferences. I am sure Oppenheimer was there. In any case, they were known to one another.
Sherwin: Right, I had known that in ’48—
Goldberger: Yeah, right.
Small experiments studying the effects of radioactive isotopes, including plutonium, uranium, and polonium, on humans were conducted in the Manhattan Annex of the Strong Memorial Hospital located at the University of Rochester. The purpose of these studies was to examine the safety of small amounts of radiation on those working at other Manhattan Project sites.
Often overlooked, Canada played an important role in the Manhattan Project, especially during the early stages of research and development. Canada was also crucial for another reason: its Northwest Territories provided a rich source of raw uranium needed to produce the bomb’s critical mass.
Often overlooked, British physicists were the first to realize the feasibility of an atomic bomb and their urgings were vital to the development and success of the Manhattan Project in the United States.
Several sites in Iowa played an important role during and after the Manhattan Project, including the Ames Laboratory at the Iowa State University where uranium production methods were developed, and the Burlington Atomic Energy Commission Plant, where atomic weapons were first assembled by the AEC.
Before the war, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) was a leading university in the fields of particle and nuclear physics. It was especially known for its experimental physicists. Many scientists who had important roles on the Manhattan Project were affiliated with Caltech, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Tolman, and Robert Bacher. In addition, a group working at Caltech under Charles Lauritsen directly assisted in the bomb-building effort, providing help manufacturing detonators that would be used in the atomic bombs.