Just think of these sample relics: A step-by-step manual on how to assemble a Fat Man atomic bomb. A patent application for the world's first nuclear weapons. Classified notebooks of Nobel laureates.
Fascinating finds are down every aisle and around every corner of the Laboratory's classified library. Too great in number to list in their entirety, here are just a few highlights of finds preserved by the NSRC.
Photos: Partying like it's 1946
What is this? In the autumn of 2021, NSRC archivist John Moore received a request from the Los Alamos Historical Society, which is restoring the home of Director and Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer on Bathtub Row. (A street in the Los Alamos townsite with homes that had bathtubs; these residences were reserved for the Laboratory's wartime leadership. ) The Historical Society needed photographs to help recreate the home as it was during the 1940s.
Why is it important? The NSRC houses more than one million photographic negatives dating back to 1943, and after extensive research, Moore found negatives that featured the inside of the Oppenheimer House. "It dawned on me," Moore said, "that many of these photos likely had not been seen in nearly 75 years."
The photos capture the house's furniture and fixtures, as well as various people enjoying themselves at a party.
"In addition to working to deliver requested reports, documents, photos, films, and other media to internal Laboratory customer inquiries, the NSRC also provides materials to external customers such as the Los Alamos Historical Society," Moore said.
Records: Transition from war to peace
What is this? In a report prepared in 1947, an investigative team at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which preceded the Department of Energy, chronicled the living and working conditions at the Laboratory during the late 1940s. Having assumed authority over the former sites of the Manhattan Engineer District on January 1, 1947, the AEC hoped to assess and address the greatest needs — and problems — faced by the government-owned Laboratory and townsite as they both evolved from wartime facilities to permanent AEC resources.
The report is part of the NSRC's Norris Bradbury Collection, named after the Laboratory's second director, who held the position when it was issued. This now-unclassified report describes issues, such as inadequate and substandard housing, as well as the strained relationship between Laboratory personnel and the University of California, which administered the Lab for the AEC. Charts break down housing and employment figures to supplement the text.
Why is it important? This report provides a detailed description of Los Alamos — the Laboratory, townsite, and community — as it existed following the end of World War II in 1945, including the clashes among groups brought about by the tangled management issues during the transition to the AEC. Because the AEC required an accurate accounting of the facilities under its auspices, the report provides researchers today with a candid look at the conditions of work and life on the hill in the immediate postwar period.
NSRC Historian Nicholas Lewis said, "The report's focus on Los Alamos's most significant problems makes it clear to researchers today how difficult that postwar transition was for the people and organizations involved."
This report provides unusually rich insights into the scale and scope of early postwar issues, how they impacted the operation and cohesion of the Laboratory and the townsite, and how the AEC sought to understand and address those issues.
Audio: From one luminary to another — Oppenheimer talks about Niels Bohr
What is this? In 1964, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the wartime Director of the Manhattan Project's Project Y (the codename for what became today's Los Alamos National Laboratory) returned to the Laboratory to speak about Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Luckily, the audio of this speech was recorded, including the roaring applause when Oppie (as he was affectionately known) took the stage. Introducing Oppenheimer was the Laboratory's director at the time, Norris E. Bradbury, who had worked with Oppenheimer at Los Alamos during World War II when it was secretly creating the atomic bomb.
Why is it important? When on stage or in an interview, J. Robert Oppenheimer often exhibited a serious demeanor.
"During this speech, Oppenheimer is more relaxed," said LANL Senior Historian Alan Carr. "He even turns audio technical problems into humorous asides. This speech gives us a quick glimpse at a less visible side of a complex man."
Oppenheimer's subject for this speech, Niels Bohr, enables Oppie to offer his own personal insights, blending historical facts with his own experiences to capture Bohr's specific contributions to the Manhattan Project, physics, and advancing world peace.
Winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics and considered one of the greatest luminaries in 20th-century physics, Bohr fled Nazi persecution in Europe and eventually made his way to the United States. He served as a consultant on the Manhattan Project, assuming the pseudonym Nicholas Baker so as not to draw suspicion to the top-secret science that was taking place in the mountains of northern New Mexico.
As Carr explained, Oppenheimer used dry humor, something he refrained from in the majority of his public appearances and interviews. Early in the speech, for example, Oppenheimer made quips about needing the help of "the audio wizards" so he could be heard.