The Faces of Project Y

The Faces of Project Y

Richard Feynman's Los Alamos ID badge photo

Alex Wellerstein recently contributed a slideshow of Los Alamos ID badges to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website. Every one of the thousands of Los Alamos personnel was required to wear a badge, which was color-coded according to differing levels of clearance. Guards wore yellow badges, for example, which meant access to secure areas but not classified information, while project leaders like General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer donned complete-access white badges. Wellerstein’s slideshow features both a massive collage and individual badges; he pairs the latter with description of the lives behind the photographs.

Charlotte Serber was head technical librarian at Los Alamos and wife of bomb designer Robert Serber. As the sole female section leader at Los Alamos, Serber was responsible for a large volume of classified information. Oppenheimer praised her performance after the war and emphasized the importance of her job, writing that “a single serious slip might not only have caused us the profoundest embarrassment but might have jeopardized the successful completion of our job.” However, Oppenheimer also named Serber as a possible communist. Though groundless, this charge led to an FBI wiretap and personal challenges for Charlotte and Robert.

Richard Feynman’s young, broad grin stands out in an array of blank and sober expressions. At Los Alamos, Feynman was both as an astute physicist and an insatiable prankster; one pastime was to undermine security regulations by cracking safes. As Wellerstein notes, however, Feynman’s time at Los Alamos was marred by tragedy. His wife Arline suffered from tuberculosis, and died of the disease in June 1945. She was twenty-five.

Berlyn Brixner was a photographer and camera engineer at Los Alamos. Like most Manhattan Project personnel, Brixner had to invent novel solutions to difficult problems. How to capture the instant an artillery shell was fired? How to film the Trinity test without destroying equipment? For more information, see his interview on the "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website.

Ramon Gomez was one of many New Mexicans employed at Los Alamos. He cleaned contaminated tools that arrived at the lab. Like him, Gomez’s four brothers also did this work, and, like him, they later died of cancer. Although impossible to prove, the Gomez brothers’ family and friends believe their deaths were linked to their work on the Manhattan Project.

Wellerstein’s blog post about these images, including a comprehensive collage, can be found here.