A Memoir of Los Alamos in World War II with Murray Peshkin

Uploaded by usnistgov on 04.09.2012

[ Music ]
>> Thanks for coming.
My name is Arif.
I'm from the PML, and I do neutron physics at the NCNR.
And it's a real pleasure to welcome Murray Peshkin
to give something I think would be a very interesting talk;
I think most of you will enjoy.
Just to introduce a little bit thoughts,
something about Murray.
I couldn't as good as Bill does, but I'll try.
Murray got his PhD from Cornell in 1951, and then he was
in Northwestern University for about 8 years up to '59,
and then he joined Argonne National Lab,
and he retired in 1991.
And his main interest, research interest, was in,
the fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics,
particularly magnetic monopoles and also Aharonov-Bohm effect.
And Murray is one of the co-authors,
I think there are only two authors with Tonomura,
who wrote the only book on the Aharonov-Bohm effect.
You see, if you don't know that, that's something interesting.
He's the fellow of the American Physical Society,
fellow of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, and he has been research associate at Stanford,
a Weizmann fellow in Israel, and he was visiting scientist
at Kyoto University and also visiting scientist a number
of times at Weizmann Institute in Israel.
But before he did all this,
he did something even more remarkable, in from 1944,
I believe, to 1946, he went to Los Alamos to work
in the Manhattan Project, when he was only 19 years old,
he was undergrad at Cornell, and he was, as Murray tells us,
that he was the personal computer for Richard Feynman.
And I met Murray first time, he doesn't remember,
in mid-80s when I was a student and I studied
at Argonne a few times.
But a number of years ago here we started a project
to measure neutron magnetic dipole moment, hopefully leading
to electric dipole moment.
It's very important experiment, and Murray is one
of the primary initiator of that experiment, and it's still going
on at the NCNR, and after all these years, Murray is as sharp
as before and equally productive.
So before I invite him up here to talk,
I also mention something else, and I appreciate that very,
very much, it was his 87th birthday yesterday,
and he made it here.
So let's give him a big applause on that.
[ Applause ]
So before I start for the talk, we have the usual,
the two exit signs in the back [inaudible], that two exit
in the back, so anything happens, please run.
Walk, but don't run.
And so Murray would you come up, and--
[ Pause ]
I'd also like to mention if you see some blank slides,
there is a reason for it, and Murray will explain why is that.
[Laughs] Thank you.
So Murray there's, this would make it forward,
this is backwards.
>> Very good, thank you.
>> And there's a laser pointer on the--
the red one is the laser pointer.
>> Oh, look at that.
>> Okay?
>> Oh great.
I always learn things when I come here to NIST,
and what I learned today was, if you're ever plagued
by self-doubt, get Arif to introduce you.
[ Laughter ]
[ Pause ]
Well, this is a memoir.
I was one of the youngest, and least significant people
at Los Alamos during World War II.
You can read good overviews of that project,
and it's very interesting, written by historians
like Addison [Hunteson?] or written by older people
who knew what the project was all
about at the time that I was there.
Mine is a worm's-eye view, and I will try
to use my own experience and the experiences of a few others
to tell you about the world in which a young scientist,
many young scientists found ourselves in war time
at Los Alamos and also in the immediate aftermath of the war.
As you will see, my perspective is a very personal one.
So in the spring of 1944,
I was a second-year undergraduate physics student
at Cornell University.
We were being taught mathematics and physics
by retired professors who had been recalled to replace those
who were away doing war work.
The country was mobilized for war, it was a popular war.
Most young men were either in the military services
or doing other war-related work.
Women were, for the first time in history in America at least,
working in serious industrial jobs.
Rosie the Riveter was the iconic woman of the day.
Graduate students in physics were mostly,
had mostly left their universities and were working
on various war-related projects.
Undergraduates were mostly being allowed to finish a year before,
after their 18th birthday, and then-- and then, intended,
expected to be drafted into the Army or the Navy.
We were-- The morale of the country was very high.
It seems paradoxical, but, you know,
war time can be a very happy time for most people
if they don't happen to be at risk
or they don't have loved ones at risk.
The Great Depression was over.
There was a use for everybody.
Everybody had a job to do and they knew how to do it.
We were confident that we would win the war.
As a typical example of the morale-- of public morale,
gasoline was rationed, so hitchhiking became one
of the preferred modes of transportation,
and most people were very generous
about picking up hitchhikers.
At Cornell, I was one of a group of about 10 undergraduates
who were studying physics and mathematics.
We were taking oh, 5 or 6 courses at a time, twice as many
as would normally be allowed, most of them mathematics
and physics, year-round of course, hoping to learn as much
as we could and to make ourselves useful
for something better than being a foot soldier.
At that time, the military services were always wooing us:
"You join up now and we're paying for your education
for the next year, and then we'll put you
in some specialized training, mostly electronics,
and then you will be assigned some duty,
which would not be being a foot soldier."
And most of my class opted--
classmates opted for one or another of those.
But then there was the mystery program.
One of my professors in the spring of 1944 said, well,
there was this project, it was located in the United States.
It was a great scientific as well as a patriotic opportunity.
If we wanted to join it, what we had to do was to join the Army,
and then somehow to tell him that we wanted it,
and then to join the Army
and then somehow we would wind up on the project.
He didn't know what it was,
he did know that we wouldn't see our parent--
our families again until the war was over.
And that was all he knew.
There wasn't a single word in writing about anything.
In retrospect when I look back on it,
it's seems an intimidating situation.
At the time, it didn't seem intimidating at all.
This was war, you know?
We were all in this together.
He told me that that was the thing to do, so I did it.
So I joined the Army, and pretty soon I--
in days almost, I was in basic training, and about 2 weeks
after that or maybe 3, I was suddenly told to pack my bags,
and I was assembled with about 10 others,
and we were shipped off to Los Alamos.
This was accompanied by high drama.
We had sealed orders.
We were starting from a-- from a training camp in Louisiana to go
to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We went there via Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Cincinnati, Chicago,
Saint Louis, and finally to Los Alamos,
each time opening our orders and finding
out what is the next step.
But we already could see
that whatever we were doing had very high priority
because it was very-- we had frequent changes of trains,
it was very hard to get on a train at that time,
even if you are in the army.
We were always at the top of the-- at the head of the list.
Finally, somebody gave us a railroad car and we only had
to get a train to pull it for us.
[Laughter] Well, some of you know Los Alamos today.
You may enjoy seeing a few photos
of how it looked when I was there.
Here was the example of priorities.
Here was the Harvard cyclotron.
Bob Wilson had brought it with him.
They needed a vandergraph.
The best-- and they needed two, in fact.
The best vandergraph for their purpose was at the University
of Wisconsin in Madison.
That's where it was living now.
There was also a Cockcroft-Walton accelerator.
The Theory Division lived in this building that you see--
that you're looking at.
All of these were located in the technical area.
Now, if you know Los Alamos now,
you will not see the technical area,
but you can orientate yourself by this pond,
which is still in the same place.
Fuller Lodge is up here somewhere.
This frontage along the main road, it must be a quarter
of a mile, I think, or a little less or have been,
it's not there anymore.
This is the rim of what was called Omega Canyon,
it's a very steep canyon.
Here, for instance, is the central shop, an enormous shop
with tremendous capabilities.
The Army-- the Army had built all that over a period
of approximately two months in 1944.
By the time I got there it was, it was old.
It was routine, it was running.
The vigor with which all
that was done was absolutely astonishing.
You know, they had not only created an industrial city
of several thousand people on top of this but they had
to build it from the ground up that needed a fire department,
that needed a power station, it needed a hospital,
it needed schools for the worker's children.
All that had been done in a period
of not just the two months, but less than a year.
Well, in addition to these buildings,
most of the technical work was done in the Tech Area,
but there were outlying buildings in the various--
mostly in various canyons, for other things.
What am I-- here we go.
I mean, it's clear what this was for.
We were hearing explosions all the time
because the implosion problem required a vast research program
in-- in explosion hydrodynamics.
Well, they-- people had the, as I said, the people had
to live somewhere too, and they had to have various aminities.
I think this Redwood Water Tower was left
over from the boy's school that had been there before
and so was the tailor shop.
And so, indeed,
was Oppenheimer's house, the director's house.
But almost everything else was new.
Residences have to be find-- found for all these people.
Single people and some few married couples lived
in dormitories like this one.
There was also a women's--
well, there were several men's dormitories
and a woman's dormitory.
Families, typically childless people,
lived in these little apartments.
Lots of people lived in these shacks;
there must have been a couple of hundred of them.
There were other kinds of units like that too.
This is where I lived, bad picture.
It was typical Army barracks.
You see the smoke stacks where the coal-burning stoves,
which heated it--
were exhausted, and these stoves caused us adventures now
and again.
Across the road from us was the women's, the WACs,
the women's Army barracks, that was,
I believe, centrally heated.
I never saw the inside, the-- [Laughter] Listen,
I was the youngest guy there,
and there were very few women and lots of men.
[Laughter] The most conspicuous thing
about the women's barracks was
that they had what we didn't have, window shades.
The company in the barracks was marvelous.
The soldiers included machinists, technicians,
and quite a few students like me.
They were an interesting bunch, in general,
and some of the students later become very
distinguished scientists.
Alas, it was also David Greenglass,
the notorious spy whose false testimony sent his sister Ethel
Rosenberg to the electric chair.
Fortunately for me, I avoided Greenglass
because he was a really obnoxious person.
But that wasn't enough to save me completely.
I-- later, when I was a graduate student during the McCarthyism,
I had a summer job at Brookhaven doing something quite innocent,
quantum electrodynamics.
But the job was withdrawn
because they couldn't get me cleared,
I think because of an indirect connection I had
with David Greenglass.
Well, we soldiers lived in the barracks and we worked--
we worked under the direction of civilians, so our experience
of the Army was actually minimal.
The office in-- the officers in charge of us knew nothing
of where we worked or what we did or what all those explosions
that they kept hearing all day were.
Needless to say, being young and snotty, we did our best
to torment them, because they had a very limited ability
to punish us.
[Laughter] If they wanted to restrict us to the barracks,
they heard from Oppenheimer's office that we were needed.
General Groves was in overall charge of the entire project.
We soldiers thought that he was a sort of comic opera character,
something out of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance;
you know, "I am the very model of a modern major general."
[Laughter] We were quite wrong; Groves was a genius
who made the project work.
Now let me turn to the project itself.
It was a very exciting place to work.
Most of the country's nuclear physicists were there, and--
plus others, many other kinds scientists.
Oppenheimer, whom all addressed as "Oppie," led the project,
and he was a kind of a cult figure.
His administrative, scientific,
technical leadership were amazing,
and he had a very charismatic personality,
and also, we were proud of him.
He was an articulate spokesman for us.
At his insistence, information was not compartmentalized very
much, with the result that we were able to have colloquia
and seminars and find out what people were doing
and thinking and, of course, to learn things.
Here's a roster of the Theory Division where I worked.
So Hans Bethe was in charge.
Vicki Weisskopf was his deputy.
John von Neumann was the only person who came and went.
He was a consultant.
He had enormous influence because he was so smart.
And you will see if you just look through here,
I cannot see it very well, let me come over here.
Well, of course, Dick Feynman was the golden boy
of the Theory Division.
But there were, there was George Placzek,
there was Rudolf Peierls, where is he?
There was Marshak.
Bellman was a very distinguished mathematician in his time.
The list just goes on and on.
Four of those people-- Bethe, Feynman, Glauber,
and Fred Reines-- won the Nobel Prize after that.
Peter Lax won the Abel medal,
which is mathematically pretty much equivalent
with the Nobel Prize.
There was also Klaus Fuchs, the notorious spy, to our regret.
I never knew Klaus Fuchs; he was rather a reclusive person.
That was a lucky thing for me.
There was Dieter Kurath, one of my fellow soldiers who--
who later introduced electronic computing to nuclear physics.
Dieter was a wonderfully talented guy.
Hold your breath.
He could diagonalize a five by five matrix.
That was an achievement at that time.
He did it by recognizing symmetries and, of course,
using a desk calculator.
There was one group, a rather large-ish group,
that was working with IBM machines,
and I will tell you a little more about that later.
They were very central to the project.
Then there was this computation group
to which I was initially assigned.
These were people who were doing numerical calculations, all day
and all night but sometimes all night.
They were-- a few of them, soldiers of both genders,
only a couple of us were actually students.
Many of them were the wives of people on the project.
The project had an incredible birth rate
because wives didn't have anything to do,
and these were young families in general,
but some of the wives were doing these calculations.
Mici Teller, for instance, was one of them.
And then there were other people, mostly women,
who had been school teachers or--
and some others too who were just looking for some way
to help with the war and somehow, one way or another,
found their way to Los Alamos.
So these people-- computations in those days were done
on these desk calculators.
So, I used this for about 18 months.
These things were marvelous, and we really appreciated them
because they could divide.
Anybody could add, subtract, and multiply,
but division was the latest wrinkle.
And the calculations that we did, because they were elaborate
and involved so many subtractions, had to be carried
to 10 figures, which this could do, just.
And the carriage on top, this thing, moved over as you moved
from one digit to another.
I see you nodding, [inaudible], you know these.
They were a wonder.
If you took off the panel, which of course, I immediately did,
you saw a solid mass of wheels and gears, wheels and rods.
It was absolutely astonishing.
Well, we were cal-- what were we calculating?
Mostly, we were taking spheres and doing neutron--
imaginary spheres and doing neutron diffusion calculations
under a wide variety of model--
model designs to see what would happen if this, if that.
The data that went into them were nuclear cross sections,
which were ill-known, and the number of neutrons per--
that came out of a fission, which was ill-known.
So, we adjusted those parameters.
Other people were doing experiments,
and then we compared the experiments
with these calculations or somebody--
somebody smarter than we did and we tried other calculations.
It was a-- it was a noble attempt.
In retrospect, it was nonsense.
The cross sections were not right.
There were things that we didn't know about, like resonances.
In retrospect, I think what we were actually doing was making a
tremendous multiparameter interpolation formula
for the experimental data.
Be that as it may, that's what we did.
Now, all of that was only the Theory Division.
There were other theorists, too.
They were Edward Teller, who was working on the super,
which was a failed design for hydrogen bomb.
Stan Ulam, the great mathematician,
was working with him.
Emil Konopinski.
But in addition to that, they were all--
we were only a tiny bit of it.
There were the experimental groups.
They were led by people such as Fermi, Bob Wilson, Kistiakowsky,
Luis Alvarez, Ed-- well, Norman Ramsey, Ken Griesen.
They were most of the luminaries of physics.
Whoever wasn't at the RAD Lab or at Berkeley,
with only a few exceptions, was with us.
Now these guys were doing dangerous experiments some
of them, involving neutrons.
And at that time, nobody knew what kind
of neutron dose would have a significant biological effect.
But they didn't care, this was war.
There were other young men dying in trenches.
So they just plunged ahead with little care.
One of the experiments that they did was The Dragon.
This is a picture of it.
It was called The Dragon by Feynman, characteristically,
because it was tickling the code--
tickling the tail of a dragon.
These things are blocks of uranium-235 hydride assembled
to the point where it was nearly critical.
Then there was this tube in the middle, here,
in which they dropped another block.
Now it would be over critical;
it the first time anybody had done an experiment
that was over prompt critical.
There wasn't that delay of a second or so
for the delayed neutrons.
And the idea was that it would go over critical instantaneously
and then you made measurements
to see whether the whole idea was right, you know?
At that time, they continually needed to check out things
that you say in retrospect,
native and obvious, but they weren't.
And when they did that experiment,
they did it in a particular lab in Omega Canyon,
where I showed you that was just below the Tech Area.
It had a fence of its own and guards
with machine guns inside the main fence
because they were very worried about Plutonium,
the very little bit of it that was there,
and also the fissile uranium-235.
And they-- when they did the experiment the first time,
they actually had the doors of the lab opened and cars
with the engines running in case anything went wrong.
It's not at all clear that it would've done them any good.
[Laughter] The guards-- these guards were military policemen.
They were different from the soldiers that I knew.
They were kept away from us.
They were tough guys.
They had been told that if the siren went off,
they should flee.
They should just run away.
Imagine telling that to military policemen.
They must have been absolutely terrified most of the time.
[Laughter] Well, one evening--
one afternoon, I guess, the siren went off.
Nothing was happening here, not The Dragon.
What happened was that on the mesa
above where the Tech Area was, in the machine shop,
some quenching oil had flashed,
and a fire engine came and it had a siren.
And the guards heard the siren and they ran away.
[Laughter] And one of them ran down the canyon
where you couldn't follow him by car,
and they had to head them off.
Well, then I had another enormously lucky break.
Feynman chose me to be his personal calculator.
I was the-- in some ways, the logical person.
Doing those calculations with that calculator I showed you,
could be accelerated by using some intelligence
about the numbers.
And also, by tech-- by-- it was something of an art.
You didn't want to copy numbers out only to plug them
in again later, so you would have to find ways to keep them
in the calculator, which had no memor, but just to do things
in the right sequence.
And I was good at that, and maybe that's why he chose me.
Dieter Kurath would have been better,
but Dieter was indispensable for diagonilizing those matrixes,
so I got work for Feynman.
Now all I could do for Dick Feynman was
numerical calculations.
If he had had a 50-dollar programable calculator
that you can buy now for nothing,
he wouldn't have needed me.
But luckily for me, he didn't have that.
I was still doing calculations and using
that Marchant calculator all day.
But now it was different because Dick Feynman was a lovely guy.
He kept me interested by telling me things,
telling me what he was thinking about--
just physics or sometimes projects.
Also, Feynman was the golden boy of the Theory Division.
He was only 27 years old and had just gotten his PhD,
and was virtually unpublished.
But somebody described him as the best-known,
least-published physicist in America.
And people came to get his advice.
All the time.
Bethe came to get his advice, all the time.
One time-- and so-- and he was very nice about it.
He encouraged me to stop working and listen,
not to speak of course.
One time, Bethe and Feynman came--
Bethe and von Neumann came in together.
Suppose the implosion didn't work.
They had another design.
It was a monster.
What would be the critical mass?
We couldn't calculate the critical mass
of a sphere correctly.
Feynman looked at it, and he said, "Why me?"
Translation: "if you two can't estimate the critical mass,
how do you expect me to?"
And one of them said, "Nobody can calculate that,
so we want you to guess."
[Laughter] And that was a very serious remark, actually.
It was a measure of their respect for his intuition.
Feynman's insight and intuition were just amazing.
He was different from-- you know, in a long life
and a lucky one, I've known a great many great physicists,
some of them are pretty well.
Feynman was different from everybody else.
His way of thinking was simply different.
If you asked him to prove some mathematical proposition,
he gave two-- or if he needed to prove it-- he gave two examples.
But that wouldn't work for most people,
but Feynman could pick those examples
so that they probed all the possible weak points.
Now, I mentioned the IBM computer group.
They were working on the hydrodynamics of the implosion.
That was a central problem of the laboratory.
It was an enormous problem.
It occupied many of the best scientists in the laboratory
for a substantial part of their time.
There was nothing trivial about it.
It was-- doing the numerical parts
of it was beyond human computers like me,
and the others like him.
So there was a group of about 18 people working,
using IBM machines.
Oh there is Dick Feynman.
I forgot to show him to you.
I don't know when that picture was taken,
but it was obviously around that age.
Here is such an IBM machine.
What it could do is add or subtract, say, multiply
and divide, I assume; certainly nothing else.
The ones we had were-- this is a later,
the one of which I have a picture is a later model.
The ones we had looked pretty much like that,
just a little less-- a little less smooth.
And the idea was that you fed in a couple of, if you wanted to,
if you had an array of numbers A and another array of numbers B
and you had to add them, you fed in 2 stacks of cards,
one with the numbers A, one with the numbers B,
and it spat out stack C with the sums.
You could make it know that it should add
and not do something else.
Here you see, this was actually kind
of like a telephone switchboard.
You plugged the wires into various places
to tell it what to do.
Well, then if you wanted to multiply those numbers C by 2,
of course, you fed them into another machine.
And that was how you did hydrodynamic calculations.
Well, it wasn't going well.
It was going very badly, in fact,
partly because they weren't, well, just was a hard problem,
and partly because these machines were always breaking
down, and then you had to call the IBM technicians,
and there was a delay before they came.
I mean, they were supposed to run 24/7
and the people worked 24/7, but there were these delays.
Well, the situation was really bad, so Bethe asked Feynman
to take over, to advise them, he said.
Well, you know what?
In about 3 weeks, Dick had turned it around
and they were really productive.
The problem with the technicians coming to fix it was solved
by figuring out how to fix it himself, of course.
So, being with Feynman was fun.
Most of the stories you've heard about his escapades are true.
[Laughter] In the main story that people know
but I can tell you more about it,
he figured out how to pick locks.
We all had-- we all had file cabinets with a lock on them.
They were cheap Remington locks of that area,
and we were supposed to put away any sensitive papers,
which was any paper with a number
on it, in the file at night.
Well, Feynman quickly figured out how
to pick those locks, and he showed me how.
And I can tell you, it was not difficult.
It was just a matter of using some intelligence
and deciding how to do it.
You did not need sensitive fingers or anything like that.
And then, so, I mean that was easy way to play pranks
on the other guys in our group.
But like, for instance, opening his lock
and changing the combination and closing it.
[Laughter] But one night, we were working late,
and we were both tired, and so we went around,
at his initiative of course, and opened the locks of many people
in the Theory Division-- opened the safes of many people
in the Theory Division-- and put in notes or moved files
around to show that we had been there.
But of course, not-- we didn't change the locks;
that would have been really bad.
Well, in the morning, I don't know if people came to work
at 9, it wasn't 2 minutes after 9 that everybody knew
who had done that, and the security officer came along
and had a chat with Dick Feynman.
But Feynman happily had the good sense not to mention me
because I was in the Army.
[Laughter] I'll tell you one more funny story
about that, before I move on.
There was-- in Oppenheimer's office was a real safe
that weighed, you know, hundreds of pounds and had a real lock.
And at some time, they wanted to open it,
and nobody remembered the combination.
So they called the locksmith who,
of course, couldn't do anything.
The only thing he could suggest was drilling out the lock,
and that would not have been easy either.
So Oppenheimer asked Feynman to look at it,
and Feynman opened it in about 15 seconds.
[Laughter] I don't know whether he confessed how he did it
but he did tell me.
He couldn't resist telling somebody.
They all came from the factory with combination 50-25-50,
so he tried that, and it opened.
[Laughter] They not only forgot the combination,
they forgot that they have never reset it.
Well, it's tangential to my story,
but let me tell you a little more about Dick Feynman,
because people are interested in him.
When I went to graduate school at Cornell after the war,
he was one of my teachers.
I was actually Hans Bethe's student, but--
but I spent most of my time with Dick Feynman.
Feynman had only very few students either
at Cornell or CalTech.
He just couldn't focus on problems
that weren't top priority for him.
His lectures were absolutely a joy to hear.
I had taken a course earlier in classical electrodynamics,
taught by Bethe, and it was a good course.
But when Feynman taught it,
I sat in on the lectures again because-- and that was true--
in general, people just loved to come and listen to him
because his lectures were so wonderful.
He had his own way of looking at routine things,
and it was always better.
It was always more intuitive, maybe not as rigorous.
In fact, we students complained
that something he did wasn't rigorous, he said,
"You know what rigamortis means?
It means died of too much rigor."
[Laughter] There was a problem with that,
and it's one I personally think I suffered with all
of my professional life, and I think many
of the others did, too.
You could learn physics wonderfully from Dick Feynman,
but you could not learn how to do physics
from Dick Feynman anymore than you could learn how to dance
by watching a ballerina.
You just couldn't do that.
But, of course, we tried.
We always tried to approach problems the way Dick Feynman
would, and we might have been better off
if we had approached them the way other people would.
Dick Feynman was not a saint.
During his Cornell years, he was notoriously a womanizer
and had a very bad reputation among the women on campus,
and there are many-- and there--
and some of the stories
about his having been gratuitously cruel
to people are true.
I can only say that he was invariably kind
and generous to me.
Well, the war ended in May 9th.
The war in Europe ended in May 1945.
I had arrived at Los Alamos in September 1944,
so it was a rather short time.
Then we learned that Germany had given
up on making a fission bomb in 1943 and we needn't have been
so panicky, but nothing changed at Los Alamos.
One man, Joseph Roth [last name inaudible],
left because he did not want to make such a horrible weapon,
but I had never heard at that time of any discussion
of whether or not we should be making such a horrible weapon.
And I did not then, either.
I'm sure that the older
and wiser people must have had reservations
and must have thought to each other about it,
but it did not trickle down to me.
Nor to the people I ordinarily spoke with.
Well, horrible weapons leads me to Edward Teller.
I knew Teller because Los Alamos was a very democratic place,
and I sometimes had lunch with him by chance
of whom you sat down with.
I never spoke with him about politics.
Others did, and those who did said
at that time he was not fighting this war.
He considered that this war was won.
He was fighting the future war with Russia,
with the Soviet Union, and that was why he wanted
to develop the super.
And he was fixated on developing the super, and although
on the man of his statue was, of course, always involved
in decisions about the fission bomb project,
but it was not the thing he worked on.
He worked on the super.
The-- you may-- I don't know if you have--
if some of you have seen the opera, Doctor Atomic.
It depicts Oppenheimer as having had no reservations and Teller
as having been worried about that.
That was actually the opposite of the truth.
Well, in any case, we continued a pace
with the fission bomb project.
The war in the Pacific had now turned around,
but we were still faced with prospect of invading Japan
with a anticipated million casualties.
By the time of the successful Trinity Test in July 15th, 1945,
troops were on ships steaming toward Japan
for the invasion fleet that I have been thanked by people
who are in that-- on those ships.
Some 70 Los Alamos scientists wrote a letter
to President Truman urging him
to give the Japanese a chance to surrender.
But General Groves stopped it.
We bombed Hiroshima on August 6th,
the Soviet Union join the war on August 8th, we bombed Nagasaki
on August 9th, and August 14 Japan Surrendered.
At Los Alamos we were absolutely exhilarated, as you can imagine.
We had ended-- we had won the war and prevented
that costly invasion, until Oppenheimer pointed out that
from now on, we would all live in fear.
Well, just after the war ended, there was a proceed-need
to dig blast gauges out of the crater at Trinity.
These were gauges that measured the maximum pressure
and so you could tell what the blast wave had been.
They were buried in the-- in the ground, very close to the--
to the tower which held the bomb,
and now they had to be dug out.
So I volunteered, along with four of the other theory people,
to go and dig them out,
partly because we thought the experimenters had already
received enough radiation and we should do it,
and partly actually because, you know, it sounded like fun.
So we took an Army car, and we drove to the Trinity site,
and there we changed to a local vehicle at their base station,
and we drove to the place where the crater was.
The crater was, I don't know, 10 feet deep at the most, I think.
Well, who can say where a gradually ending crater ends,
but it was on the order of a hundred meters in diameter.
And we had radiation gauges of a sort, and we were going to leave
if we accumulated more than 5 rem,
and with those gauges were probably good to a factor five,
and so we went in and we had a map and we located those gauges
and we dug them out, and that was that.
Well, then we went back to our-- then we--
then we were pretty well covered with radioactive sand
at the time, so we took off our clothes
and brushed ourselves off as best as we could
and then we drove back to this base station.
In retrospect, I think we should have felt like a comedy team:
five naked men driving across the dessert--
[Laughter] -- in a car.
Actually, I wasn't completely naked; I was wearing shoes
because I was driving the car.
[Laughter] Well, that was great fun.
But here's the serious question:
why were we doing such a stupid thing?
The war was over.
There wasn't-- what was our hurry?
The retrospect is, that not to have done it would have been
against the culture of that time and place.
It never occurred to us not to do it.
Somebody said they would like to know the pressure, good,
we dug out the gauges.
That attitude, which pervaded for some time
after the war ended, resulted in some serious--
had some serious consequences, and I'll tell you
about one that-- I choose one
because I was peripherally involved
with it, in just a moment.
But first, there is another matter.
When the war ended,
Oppenheimer's lustre started to tarnish.
He was the greatest popular hero in the country
after General Eisenhower, and he was called
to visit President Truman and separately to visit Eisenhower,
and he was sort after by powerful senators.
Two bills for controlling the development of nuclear energy
and of nuclear physics, the science,
were before the Congress.
One was called the May-Johnson Bill,
and it would have given the military complete control
of the both.
The other was called the McMahon Bill,
and it would have established the civilian organization,
the Atomic Energy Commission.
Everybody I knew favored the civilian alternative,
and people were writing letters to their congressmen.
Oppenheimer favored the military.
Well, he went off somewhere to talk about it,
and when he came back,
he favored the military alternative.
And he wouldn't say why.
All he could-- all he would say was, "If you knew what I know,
you would agree with me."
Well, people just weren't buying that.
So, after the war, people started to leave, of course,
and Feynman's group evaporated except for me.
I was still in the Army, so I couldn't leave.
So I joined Philip Morrison's,
which was building a fast neutron reactor
called Clementine.
It was a mercury-cooled reactor with an assembly
of plutonium rods sitting in the mercury.
Here is a picture of its core-- oh, oh this.
This had to do with Feynman.
When we complained about units,
that was what he wrote on the blackboard.
So, here is the core of Clementine.
You can see the size of that canister, it had those holes
for aligning the plutonium rods, you can see one
of the man's fing-- the person's fingers.
And the mercury flowed throughout it.
That's not my hand, and that may even be a fake rod,
but it could have been my hand,
and it could have been a real plutonium rod.
That was the way one handled plutonium rods, you picked it
up with your hands and did whatever you did with it.
It was actually perfectly safe.
The plutonium was clad with a--
plated actually with a thin layer of some white metal.
I never found out what it was,
but I would guess stainless steel and, you know,
the alpha particles couldn't get out,
and there weren't that many neutrons.
Anyway, that was the way we worked in those days,
and that's why we were able to do things so fast and so well.
I think you don't need that lecture.
Well, another part-- oh, well,
Phil Morrison was the leader of that group.
Here he is.
Phil is one of the heroes of my life.
I will tell you a little more about him.
He was a remarkable man.
He appeared to have swallowed the dictionary--
to have swallowed the Encyclopedia Britannica.
There seemed nothing in which he was not well informed.
He was a theoretical physicist,
but he was leading an experimental group,
and he was one of those who went to Tinian to assemble the bomb.
And then after the war, he was one of the very first actually
to go into Japan and assess the damage and talk
with knowledgeable people there.
And what he saw so horrified him
that he became a tremendous advocate for arms control
for the rest of his life,
often at some political peril to himself.
Well, part of our group was doing a critical assembly.
They were led by Louis Slotin of whom I don't have a picture.
The idea was that you had a hemisphere of, I think it was--
surely it was plutonium,
we didn't have enough U-235 at that time.
It was sitting on a table with some little frame to hold it.
And you had another hemisphere above it and you lower it
and you measure the neutrons coming out as a function
of the distance between the two hemispheres.
And the idea was that by using that,
you could get more data points
for these silly calculations that we were doing.
Well, it was understood by everybody
that you never did that: you didn't lower the upper part
of the reactive material and you raised the lower part
because then if you dropped it, it would fall away.
But they were doing it the way they did it, they had shims
in place and they lowered it, you know, a millimeter at a time
with the aid of a screwdriver and the shims.
Something slipped for some reason;
the thing went over critical.
There was a flash of, invisible flash of neutrons.
Some people thought afterward
that they might have seen a blue glow from the ionization.
Louis threw the upper hemisphere away but, of course,
it was all too-- it was too late.
The reaction had turned itself off due to thermal expansion
of the spheres actually.
Everybody rushed out the door.
The guard, the armed guard at the door,
because it was plutonium, was the last one out,
although he was standing next to the door.
And they all went off to the hospital, some of them stopping
at home first to tell there wives what had happened.
It turned out that nobody was injured really except Louis
because they were further from the plutonium.
Louis died 10 days later.
Well, we were left to ask,
"Why were they doing that experiment?"
The war was over.
They didn't have to do such dangerous things.
The same answer as I gave you before.
My connection with the lab--
with it was that Phil Morrison was characteristically the first
one in there a few days later
after the radioactivity had died down.
And a week or so later, I and another man went
in to try clean things up a bit.
They needed us to clean them up because the janitors refused
to go in there, having observed that all the bugs were dead.
And Phil tried to explain to them that the bugs were dead
because the doors were closed and it was terribly hot in there
for a couple of weeks, but they were inconsolable, so I did it.
There was no danger of secondary radiation at that point.
That was not an act of bravery or even of folly.
Well, after the war came the McCarthyism,
and many of the people at Los Alamos were caught up in it,
quite naturally, because they were intellectuals.
The Great Dpression had taught them before the war,
during the depression, that capitalism doesn't work,
and they varied from people who were interested
in Marxist economic theory in a rather academic way,
to ones who really thought
that the Soviet Union was leading the way
for the future, better world.
Stalin had not been recognized by them or by anybody really
or by most people as the monster that he was,
partly because of government propaganda.
And so, even I had some problem with the McCarthyism.
I was cleaner than clean.
I was a nerdy kid who had never been interested in politics,
who never belonged to any organizations
that were subverted by communists,
except if you count the U.S. Army
where we had David Greenglass.
I was just as innocent as anybody could be,
but I had friends, and that was enough.
Oppenheimer and many of his former students
and associates had-- well, had been closely associated,
if not with the communist party, if not, members thereof.
Oppenheimer, himself, paid dues for some months that were more
than most people's salaries.
And the witch hunters were out for--
were shooting for Oppenheimer.
And the way they were going to get at him was
through his former students.
They had been associated with him in the same way
and they used the classical methods
that witch hunters have used in the past in the inquisitions
so forth, to get after him.
Well, one of the people who was quite vulnerable was
Phil Morrison.
And he was questioned by one of those Congressional committees,
and Phil was in an awkward situation.
He was furious at Oppenheimer, as were the rest of us,
because Oppenheimer, well, how should I put it?
Oppenheimer was then still a great hero
to the entire population.
He had the opportunity to say "Look,
this whole business is ridiculous.
Even I was involved in those things in my youth.
It doesn't mean a thing those people are not
necessarily disloyal."
But he didn't.
Instead, he threw people to the wolves,
left and right trying to save himself.
There was a man named Chevalier whom Oppenheimer accused,
falsely as he later said, he called it the "cock
and bull story" as he later.
Oppenheimer told Groves that Chevalier had asked Oppenheimer
to commit espionage for the Soviet Union.
Well, that just wrecked Chevalier's life,
as you can imagine.
They didn't have any ability to arrest him on that basis,
but it ruined his career.
Oppenheimer's brother, Frank, who was a professor
at Minnesota was fired, and so he did some ranching
for a while, and after a while, invented the Exploratorium
in San Francisco, so we may have benefited from that.
But in general, these people were trying not
to testify against Oppenheimer.
Some of them fled the country.
Bernard Peters, a very capable cosmic ray physicist,
fled the country and had spent the rest of his life in India.
David Bohm who many people thought deserved the Nobel Prize
for having invented the plasma, and spent most
of his life in Brazil.
They all left either because they were likely to be arrested
or be caught and then they could get out of it
by testifying against Oppenheimer.
Phil Morrison didn't flee.
He was questioned in secret session.
He said, and I believe him, that he refused to testify
on some untested constitutional grounds, and he got away
with it, he didn't get arrested.
I think he was lucky that it was a secret session.
If he had defied them in public, he--
they would have had to follow him up.
So, how was I involved with this?
Well, first of all, I was a friend of Phil Morrison.
There was-- the FBI was following him around,
and they had seen me drive him to this place or that.
And so, what happens as a result of it?
Well, I was very lucky.
I was teaching at Northwestern University after the war.
And so, I didn't have required a clearance for anything.
But then, an FBI came-- agent came to visit me.
Did I know a certain former graduate student,
fellow graduate student of mine at Cornell?
Sure I do.
Someone I didn't like, as a matter of fact,
but unjustly as it turned out.
But yeah, I knew him.
Had I given him a ride in my car from a meeting
of the Physical Society in New York to Ithaca
where Cornell is located?
Yes, I had.
Who else was in the car?
Now, what you do with that slippery slope,
I said I didn't remember.
He was no dope.
He said, "Oh, you know, think about it for a few days,
it'll come back to you.
I'll come back; I'll return."
He returned in a few days and he said "Have you though about it?"
And I said, "I will not discuss this man."
He said, "Okay, that's your privilege."
Nothing came of it.
Well, 5 or 6 years later, I left Northwestern and went
to Argonne, which was an open lab,
and you didn't have to be cleared.
But after I've been there for some time,
it turned out that it was discovered
that if you had been cleared in the past,
as I had at Los Alamos, then you had to be recleared
in order to work at Argonne.
So they tried to reclear me, and I got a call, which said "Look,
on the basis of the field investigation,
we cannot clear you.
Come down and we'll talk."
But I was again very lucky.
That was by then 1959 or a '60.
The McCarthyism was basically over.
The FBI who-- guy who called me was a humane individual
and he said "Look, my goal is
to find reasons why I should clear you."
So we talked for a day and a half.
And since we talked about everything under the sun,
I couldn't be sure exactly why it was that I was
under so much suspicion, but I feel quite certain,
it must have been my refusal to answer questions about--
He asked me about that.
And I again said I really didn't know who it was,
and he again didn't believe me but he was nice about it.
The intensity of their tracking people was very impressive.
One of the many things he asked me was--
about was...it turned out that the uncle of the wife
of my former college roommate was a writer
for the Communist Daily Worker newspaper,
and he wanted information about that.
And I said "Look, that roommate now works
for the RAND Corporation which is--
and obviously, has very high clearance.
Why are you asking me about this?"
And he said "Look, I ask the questions, you answer them."
[Laughter] I thought that was reasonable.
I also had a friend who got in very serious trouble
because he had a mathematician,
because he had an apartment in Albuquerque.
He had been in the Army with me at Los Alamos.
He had been in the Army, he had--
his wife was in the Army at a nearby base, and they met
at this apartment in Albuquerque weekends.
His wife was away.
Greenglass, whom this guy hated, wanted to sublet it from him.
He let him do it because Greenglass's wife was pregnant
and this and that.
Well, that was the apartment
in which the famous [inaudible] box papers were passed through,
messenger for the Rosenbergs, and he was in trouble
and I wrote a letter defending him.
And this guy knew it.
Well, I think I've said enough.
Thank you.