Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project

By Don Howard

General Leslie R. Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer, leaders of the Manhattan Project

General Leslie R. Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer, leaders of the Manhattan Project.

Living history in the form of personal memoirs was a delightful feature of one of the engaging Forum sessions at the April APS meeting in St. Louis. It focused on the Manhattan Project, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the Project’s launch in early 1943.

Cynthia Kelly began the session with a talk, “A History Worth Preserving,” reporting on the exemplary work of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, which she founded and directs, in identifying and preserving physical sites important in the Manhattan Project and the history of atomic physics more generally. A principal focus of this talk was the success in salvaging the V-site at Los Alamos, the facility where the Trinity device was assembled and one of the few remaining original structures at Los Alamos. Kelly also discussed examples of at-risk sites at Oak Ridge and elsewhere.

Next came Anthony P. French sharing his recollections of work as “A Very Junior Physicist at Los Alamos, 1944–1946.” He worked there as part of the British contingent, serving under the direction of Egon Bretscher in Fermi’s “F Division,” where the “Super” or hydrogen bomb was the main focus of research. In his talk French focused on his personal odyssey from Britain to New Mexico, saving comments about his Los Alamos experiences for the ensuing panel.

The session concluded with a panel discussion organized by Ben Bederson and Clayton Gearhart, and hosted by David Cassidy, featuring seven Manhattan Project veterans. Besides French, they included Albert Bartlett, E. Leonard Jossem, Howard Kratz, Nathan Melamed, Murray Peshkin, and Julius Tabin. Former Forum Chair and “History of Physics” Editor Bederson closed out the panel and session with his recollections of service at Los Alamos in the Army Special Engineer Detachment.
Manhattan Project panelists

Manhattan Project panelists at the table include (l. to r.) Julius Tabin, Murray Peshkin, Nathan Melamed, Howard Kratz, Albert Bartlett, Anthony P. French, and E. Leonard Jossem. Moderator David Cassidy is just visible at extreme left.