Dunell Cohn was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1944. Cohn's father, Waldo, was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project in Chicago in 1942 for his work on radioisotopes at Berkeley and Harvard during the 1930s. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Oak Ridge, where he developed a method to separate the fission products from the nuclear reactor. He also pioneered the radioisotope program at Oak Ridge, producing radioisotopes in large quantities that could then be used for medical and biological research. Dunell recalled in his interview what is was like growing up as a child at Oak Ridge, and his father's love for music and role in creating Oak Ridge's symphony orchestra.