Historian explains the legacy of ‘Oppenheimer’

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LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – Los Alamos and the national laboratory there are a well-known part of New Mexico today. But, nearly 80 years ago there was nothing there.

“Almost overnight he was the director of a laboratory that had not come into existence yet. How do you build a laboratory, how do you build a staff, am I the right person to take the job? It was really a challenging time for Oppenheimer and frequently doubted himself,” said Alan Carr, a Los Alamos National Laboratory historian. 

When the Manhatten Project began back in the 1940s, Oppenheimer had a lot on his plate. 

From recruiting scientists to work on the project, to finding a spot for the creation and testing of a nuclear bomb.

When he was in college, Oppenheimer often stayed at a family cabin between Pecos and Santa Fe so he started his search for land in northern New Mexico.

“When it came time to select a location for the weapons design factory he and general groves visited Jemez Springs first, but it was not as suitable of a location as he would have hoped. So Oppenheimer suggested Los Alamos,” said Carr. 

Soon construction began and Los Alamos was built. Scientist were recruited from across the country and they moved their families to norther New Mexico.

“The Manhattan Project as a whole employed 130,000 people simultaneously at its peak,” Carr said. 

Years of research lead to the testing of “Gadget” at the Trinity site near White Sands, the rest was history.