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Meeting and working with Richard Feynman at Los Alamos


Becoming director of the Los Alamos Theoretical Division
Hans Bethe Scientist
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Two advisors to Oppenheimer, namely Bacher, who had been my colleague at Cornell, and who was now at the Radiation Lab, and Rabi, who was Associate Director of the Radiation Laboratory, were advising Oppenheimer, and told him; 'Well, it's impossible to run the lab with 20 independent groups, all funneling into your brain. You have a marvelous brain but you can't direct all of this yourself, you have to have a structure as the Radiation Lab had, namely, the lab was first divided into divisions, each division having maybe five to ten groups and each group having maybe five to ten scientists in it.' And they then recommended to Oppenheimer to appoint me as the leader of the Theoretical Division. That, at the beginning, had about 20 or 30 members. At the end it was about a hundred, a very small division in the big lab. But we had a very interesting time because everything started with theory. I had very able group leaders. One of them was Serber, who had been instrumental at Berkeley. Another was Teller, and still another was Weisskopf, a good friend of mine from Rochester. And then we had several more.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: MIT Radiation Lab, Los Alamos, J Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Bacher, Edward Teller, II Rabi, Victor Weiskopff, Robert Serber

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008