George Marchi Sr.

Stovetops of science: Marchi Lab legacy spans pasta to materials synthesis

April 26, 2023

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As told by Alex Marchi

The Manhattan Project Chef

In 1943, Gen. Leslie R. Groves asked George Marchi Sr. to be the chef at Fuller Lodge. The story goes that General Groves — a friend of George Sr.’s brother, Lt. Col. Bruno Marchi — received word George Sr. was a chef in Santa Fe and “threatened” to draft him if he didn’t agree to come up the Hill to cook. 

George Sr. loved the antics and relocated [to Los Alamos] soon after. He was my great-grandfather.

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One of George Marchi Sr.’s food requisition tickets from the Manhattan Project. Forms like this were used to order grub for the kitchen at Fuller Lodge.

In a 2008 interview for the Voices of the Manhattan Project website, Eulalia Quintana Newton, a Manhattan Project staffer, remarked on George Sr.’s culinary expertise:

“George Marchi used to be the chef, and he made the best spaghetti in the world,” Eulalia said. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten spaghetti like that. Nobody would miss the spaghetti on that particular night.”

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The Fuller Lodge dining room, where Manhattan Project workers shared an intimate and cordial dining space away from the intensity of their work.

Los Alamos was close-knit in those days. George Sr.’s daughter Betty — my great-aunt — babysat for the children of Italian-born physicist Enrico Fermi, the 1938 Nobel Prize winner who demonstrated the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction and is widely credited as the architect of the nuclear age.

Fermi and George Sr.’s relationship was likely kindled because my great-grandfather was Italian and spoke the language fluently. I once wrote a paper on Fermi and interviewed Betty about Fermi’s time in New Mexico.

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Enrico Fermi (right) and wife Laura (left) with son Giulio and daughter Nella in 1939, just after arriving in America. Alex Marchi’s great-aunt babysat for the Fermis during the Manhattan Project. (Photo credit:

Second helping

George Marchi Jr., my grandfather, was the second member of our family to work in Los Alamos. He served in the Navy during the Manhattan Project and returned to New Mexico after World War II to work at the SM-31 chemical warehouse, eventually becoming group leader. My grandmother, Rita Marchi, stayed in Los Alamos during his deployment and worked as a typist.

Rita gave birth to my uncle in Los Alamos, and his birth certificate shows his place of birth as “P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, NM.” My father, who was born in Santa Fe, vividly remembers their childhood here, using real military vehicles and toy soldiers as props for pretend wars. He told me that emergency evacuation orders were determined by badge in those days, which always made him fearful, knowing his dad would be one of the last to leave should an evacuation be necessary.

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Alex Marchi working at the Lab in 2018.

Standing on the shoulders

I represent the fourth generation of Marchis to live and work in Los Alamos.

While earning my degree in chemical engineering at New Mexico Tech, I was one of the first to intern under a new cooperative program between the university and the Lab, working in the Gas Transfer Systems group (Q-7). Later, I was accepted into Duke University, where I received my doctorate in biomedical engineering.

In 2015, I returned to Los Alamos as a postdoctoral researcher in the Engineering Institute and was later converted to a staff position, bringing my family’s story full circle.

I think I can speak for each generation of Los Alamos Marchis in saying the work we have done and continue to do is vital to the Lab. I often think about what might have happened had Einstein’s fruit not been delivered, or if Fermi’s kids had gone missing, or if chemicals had been mishandled.

We all stand on the strong shoulders of those who came before us.

Alex Marchi is an R&D scientist for Materials Synthesis and Integrated Devices (MPA-11).

Editor’s note: Lab historian Alan Carr (WRS-NSRCMS) cannot confirm Albert Einstein’s presence in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. According to various sources, in July 1940, the U.S. Army intelligence office denied Einstein the security clearance needed to work on the project. Its scientists were forbidden from consulting with him because as a political activist he was deemed a security risk.