Los Alamos Historical Society Discusses Manhattan Episode 10

Bernice Brode and James Tuck dancing. Courtesy/LAHS Archives

LAHS News:

  • Nearly Through  With the First Season of WGN’s Manhattan

WGN’s new series, Manhattan, a fictionalized look at life in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, is reaching its final episodes.

The Los Alamos Historical Society wants to again thank everyone who comes to our viewings and discussions for contributing their thoughts, questions, and experiences.

Every week, the Society updates a bulletin board in the Museum to continue exploring questions and reactions as the 13-episode series continues. Previous episodes are discussed on our website, www.losalamoshistory.org, on our facebook page, and in the museum. 

Join the Los Alamos Historical Society Sundays at 8-9:30 p.m. at Time Out Pizzeria in Los Alamos for a viewing and discussion of Manhattan (TV-14 rating).

Ep. 110:  “The Understudy”

Did the government take land from Native Americans for the Manhattan Project?

We asked this question last week and wanted to expand our answer. Characters in the show discussed the government’s purchase of land for the Project, and it was in this context that we framed our answer. However, as a reader rightly pointed out, just because the government did not purchase land from local Pueblos does not mean they were unaffected. Ancestral Pueblo people first lived on the Pajarito Plateau nearly a thousand years ago, and the Plateau remains important to many Pueblos today. The fences of the Manhattan Project prevented native peoples from making traditional journeys to the Plateau and from collecting ritually important plants which grow here. In this sense, land was very much taken from Native Americans.

How was predetonation handled?

In the episode, Frank predicted that if Thin Man’s predetonation problem was brought to light, the whole lab would be reorganized to try and solve the problem. Glenn argued that the lab would be reorganized around implosion, instead. In actuality, the discovery that reactor-bred plutonium would cause predetonation caused a massive reorganization of the lab in the summer of 1944: Thin Man was abandoned and efforts were redirected towards the implosion bomb.

Was there a Russian explosives scientist?

Although he didn’t work in a shack in the middle of nowhere, there was a Russian-speaking scientist and explosives expert invited to join the Project to work on the implosion bomb. Born in Kiev in 1900 (then part of Russia, now the capital of Ukraine), George Kistiakowsky fought with the anti-Communist White Army during the Russian Revolution. He escaped Russia in 1920 and emigrated to the US in 1926 after earning his PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Berlin. During World War II, Kistiakowsky led explosives research at the Office of Scientific Research and Development before being asked to help at Los Alamos in 1944. While here, he helped create a new ski tow path on Sawyer’s Hill by felling trees with primacord.

How were explosive lenses developed?

James Tuck first suggested the use of explosive lenses in the implosion bomb. George Kistiakowsky was brought to Los Alamos to lead a new explosives group, X Division, tasked with designing the lenses and the details of their use. Kistiakowsky suggested using Baratol as a slow explosive, as Lazar did in the episode. However, the exploding-bridgewire charges mentioned by Frank were not initially considered for the implosion bomb. They allowed better precision timing, and were developed by Luis Alvarez and Lawrence Johnston, who was awarded the patent, for use in the implosion bomb.

Notables:

  • The book Elodie loaned Abby was The Stranger by Albert Camus, published in 1942. Camus did live for a time in occupied Paris.
  • William Holden starred in the 1940 film production of Our Town.
  • The fluorescent lights struck some people as possibly anachronistic, but they went on the market in 1938 and were heavily used during the war. Arthur Compton, who led the Met Lab at Chicago, was a GE consultant and his experiments in 1934 led to the first prototype fluorescent bulb.
  • In the episode, Lazar is drilling into a block of explosives to remove air pockets. Kistiakowsky did the same thing with a dental drill to perfect the explosives a week before the Trinity test.
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