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Surviving Manhattan Project scientist discusses power of the atom

Jen French
May 25, 2017 07:54 AM

LOS ALAMOS, N.M.— The atomic bomb ended World War II and started the Cold War and the global arms race. Harris Mayer, now 96, is among the last surviving scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. He was part of an elite team of the best minds in the world who worked in the secret on the hill in Los Alamos.

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What others call history, Mayer calls a personal memory.

"We were united, this whole group, in getting the nuclear weapons," Mayer said. "We didn't like what it was, but we loved what we were doing." 

While America was sending young men to World War II, Mayer studied at New York University.

"I never wanted to do anything in life but learn,” he said. "I know a lot about the frailties of the human race and we've made a lot of mess, but we've made a lot of wonderful things." 

Mayer hopes people remember more than a bomb. He hopes history remembers the faces behind it. Mayer was the student of Edward Teller, known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. Mayer also worked with Richard Feynman, the founder of quantum mechanics. He worked with thermonuclear weapon designer Richard Garwin, nuclear reactor creator Enrico Fermi, and the discoverer of the neutrino Frederick Reines.

The neutrino has helped humans understand the sun, stars and supernovas.

“Fred could've made his life in nuclear weapons,” Mayer said. “Instead, he made it in neutrino physics and then so many other things in humanity." 

Nearly 6,000 people worked in secret at the mountain ranch that was once used as a ranch school for boys.

Feynman would later uncover nanotechnology. Teller worked for the government and ran the Lawrence Livermore Lab in California where he developed safety protocols for nuclear power plants.

Garwin developed 47 patents and advised the government on spy satellites and nuclear proliferation.

Harris and his wife adopted and raised three kids. His son David is an artist who has had his work on display in Santa Fe.

"We were like family and friends together,” Mayer said. "They knew our children. I knew their children." 

Credits

Jen French

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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