August 2013 Newsletter
Manhattan's Secret Sites
AHF Receives IEEE Grant
Manhattan Project Veterans Reflect on the Bomb
Colonel Matthias Bust Dedication
"The Third Core's Revenge"
Quick Links

AHF President Cindy Kelly has been busy traveling interviewing Manhattan Project veterans around the country in the past month. In Oak Ridge, she interviewed stars of Denise Kiernan's The Girls of Atomic City Colleen Black, Celia Clemski, and Kattie Stricklund, along with physical chemist Fred Vaslow. In Santa Fe, she interviewed Ellen Bradbury Reid and Nancy Bartlit, children of the Manhattan Project, and Los Alamos scientist Haskell Sheinberg. Next stop: St. Louis to interview the widow of Joseph William Kennedy, a co-discoverer of plutonium. Please contact us if you know a Manhattan Project veteran or family member who would like to be interviewed!  
Manhattan Project veteran Colleen Black, AHF President Cindy Kelly, and "Girls of Atomic City" author Denise Kiernan


Manhattan's Secret Sites: A New Website

Pupin Hall, where Columbia's cyclotron was housed
AHF is pleased to announce the launch of a new website on the Manhattan Project in Manhattan. Come take a tour of Oppenheimer's childhood home, Pupin Hall at Columbia, home of the cyclotron that produced the first fission in the United States, the headquarters of Union Carbide & Carbon Corporation and much more. The website has been developed by the Carnegie Corporation based on the Atomic Heritage Foundation's "Guide to the Manhattan Project in Manhattan," part of AHF's  

John Dunning, Enrico Fermi, and Dana P. Mitchell with Columbia University's cyclotron

Earlier this year, AHF received a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to conduct more interviews of Manhattan Project workers who had served on the project in Manhattan and to educate the public about the Manhattan Project in Manhattan. The Carnegie staff has created a HistoryPin website based on the "Guide to the Manhattan Project in Manhattan." The site promises to be a terrific online resource for students and the public to learn more about the top-secret history of the Manhattan Project and its many brilliant and colorful characters.

AHF Receives IEEE Grant

The Mars Rover uses plutonium for power, one example of the important scientific legacy of the Manhattan Project

AHF has recently been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for "The Manhattan Project's Legacy of Innovation." The project will highlight some of the innovations of the Manhattan Project and trace them to innovations in science and engineering today.


AHF will record oral histories of Manhattan Project veterans about the myriad of innovations that were essential to the project, from high speed computing, nuclear reactor design, and radiation detection to heath and environmental monitoring. In addition, AHF will contact scientists and engineers at the national laboratories and elsewhere to establish the links between the past innovations and developments in science and technology today. 


What is the legacy of the Manhattan Project today? The project funded by IEEE will help answer that question. The results will show how innovations in science, engineering and technology can change the world.


Manhattan Project Veterans Reflect on the Bomb


For the 68th anniversary of Hiroshima, AHF consolidated some veterans' reflections into "Manhattan Project veterans reflect on the bomb," focusing on the decision to drop the bomb, the scientists' reactions to the news, and thoughts many decades later. Here are a few excerpts.   

Hiroshima after the bombing
Darragh Nagle (Los Alamos): It was absolutely not the scientists' decision, and how the scientists would have voted if you'd had an election is not clear to me either. Certainly some of the leading scientists like Ernest Lawrence were rather hawkish, but I was not a close associate of Lawrence in any way.


Evelyne Litz (Chicago, Los Alamos): I was very solemn. I have to tell you, V-E Day I will never forget at Los Alamos. All the GI's were out and all the jeeps, tooting horns and running up and down the hills, and people were up celebrating, and in our house suddenly there were twenty people drinking wine. That was V-E Day. V-E Day was wonderful. The day the bomb was dropped there was no hilarity on the Hill. None of our friends got together; we were very solemn. 

The Japanese surrender aboard the USS Indianapolis

George Cowan (Columbia, Chicago, Los Alamos): All the scientists that I knew of were for a demonstration. The fact that they were for a demonstration was not transmitted to Truman. He was working as the brand-new President at the time; didn't know beans, I think, about the bomb project. He turned it all over to the Secretary of War Stimson, and it was run from the War Department. And they weren't taking advice about demonstrations. They were going to demonstrate that thing over a Japanese city, and that's the way it went. So I don't think the opinions of the scientists mattered one way or the other. They just never were transmitted; they never were taken seriously.


Leona Marshall Libby (Hanford): I certainly do recall how I felt when the atomic bombs were used. My brother-in-law was captain of the first minesweeper scheduled into Sasebo Harbor. My brother was a Marine, with a flame thrower, on Okinawa. I'm sure these people would not have lasted in an invasion. It was pretty clear the war would continue, with half a million of our fighting men dead not to say how many Japanese. You know and I know that General (Curtis) LeMay firebombed Tokyo and nobody even mentions the slaughter that happened then. They think Nagasaki and Hiroshima were something compared to the firebombing.




I have no regrets. I think we did right, and we couldn't have done it differently. 

Oak Ridgers celebrating the end of the war

Lilli Hornig (Los Alamos): I remember the petition to not to use the bomb as a weapon came around just after the [Trinity] test. And some of my friends in the same group, whatever it was, X something, were signing it. And I thought about it and I thought that was a good idea. I think many of us had really worked on the bomb with the thought that it might deter Hitler. Once the European war was over with...There wasn't certainly among the scientists the same gut feeling about using it. We thought in our innocence that if we petitioned hard enough they might do a demonstration test or something like they later did at Bikini and Enewetak, and invite the Japanese to witness it. But of course the military had made the decision well before. They were going to use it no matter what. We had very mixed feelings about that.


Colonel Matthias Bust Dedication 

Rep. Doc Hastings speaking at the dedication ceremony with Lt. Col. Kelly and Michael Matthias looking on. Photo courtesy of the Richland Public Library.

In December 1942, Colonel Franklin T. Matthias was given the job of selecting a perfect site for the Manhattan Project's plutonium production. The site had to be a large, isolated area, with plenty of water and electricity. As Matthias flew over southeast Washington by the Columbia River, he decided, "Gee, this has to be the place!" After convincing General Groves to use the site in January 1943, Matthias was put in charge of the entire Hanford project. With the DuPont Company's engineers sending dimensions by teletype from Wilmington, construction crews began digging the foundations of the first nuclear reactor and many other facilities without blueprints. Just two years later, the B Reactor was operating at full power.

Photo courtesy of the Richland Public Library


In a ceremony on August 24, 2013, the City of Richland dedicated a bronze bust of Col. Matthias on display at the Richland Public Library. A replica of the sculpture is at the B Reactor. The speakers included Michael Matthias, the Colonel's son; Congressman Doc Hastings; Gary Petersen, vice president of the Tri-City Development Council; John Fox, mayor of Richland; and Lt. Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


To view photographs of the bust and from the ceremony courtesy of the Richland Public Library, please click here.

"The Third Core's Revenge"

Larry Litz

In a blog post this month, Alex Wellerstein connected the dots about the third plutonium core created at Los Alamos for the atomic bombs. The first core was used in the Trinity test, and the second core was used in the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki. On August 9, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, Alex tackled the question of why a second bomb was dropped. A Twitter follower asked him, "So was the third sphere the demon sphere?" This question led Alex to look into the fate of the third, overlooked core.


In an interview with AHF Program Manager Alexandra Levy in December 2012, physicist Lawrence Litz recalled pulling a 24-hour shift at Los Alamos to cast the third plutonium sphere "because we weren't sure that the Japanese would surrender even after the second bomb was dropped." Litz went on, "After we found that we didn't need to use the third bomb we decided to use the hemispheres for research...Now one of the men who was working on the experiment accidentally bumped the array, exposing himself to the radiation, and died two weeks later from the radiation."

A mock-up of the experiment Louis Slotin was conducting when the screwdriver slipped, causing a supercriticality


This man was Harry Daghlian, who was experimenting with the core when an accident caused a supercriticality and the release of a lethal dose of radiation. But his was not the only death caused by the core. Nine months later, in a different experiment with the same core, Louis Slotin's hand slipped at just the wrong moment, causing the two hemispheres to touch and again emit a lethal dose of radiation. These two accidents led to the core being given the nickname "the demon core." The core finally met its end in Shot Able of Operation Crossroads.


Thanks to Alex Wellerstein for explicating the long, fatal history of Los Alamos' third plutonium core.


We are looking forward to Congress returning soon and possibly taking up the Manhattan Project National Historical Park legislation. In the meantime, we welcome your interest and support as we work to preserve this history and promote a better understanding of its legacy for science and society. Thanks very much!



Atomic Heritage Foundation