The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part IV: The Manhattan Engineer District in Operation

Another Lewis Committee

The first few months at Los Alamos were occupied with briefings on nuclear physics for the technical staff and with planning research priorities and organizing the laboratory. Groves called once again on Warren Lewis to head a committee, this time to evaluate the Los Alamos program. The committee's recommendations resulted in the coordinated effort envisioned by those who advocated a unified laboratory for bomb research. Fermi took control of critical mass experiments and standardization of measurement techniques. Plutonium purification work, begun at the Met Lab, became high priority at Los Alamos, and increased attention was paid to metallurgy. The committee also recommended that an engineering division be organized to collaborate with physicists on bomb design and fabrication. The laboratory was thus organized into four divisions: theoretical (Hans A. Bethe); experimental physics (Robert F. Bather); chemistry and metallurgy (Joseph W. Kennedy); and ordnance (Navy Captain William S. "Deke" Parsons). Like other Manhattan Project installations, Los Alamos soon began to expand beyond initial expectations.

As director, Oppenheimer shouldered burdens both large and small, including numerous mundane matters such as living quarters, mail censorship, salaries, promotions, and other "quality of life" issues inevitable in an intellectual pressure-cooker with few social amenities. Oppenheimer relied on a group of advisers to help him keep the "big picture" in focus, while a committee made up of Los Alamos group leaders provided day-today communications between divisions.

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