News and Notes

More Los Alamos Footage Released

by Alex Wellerstein, published March 7th, 2012

I noted a few weeks ago that some new Los Alamos footage had been released. LANL has put up a much longer clip on YouTube. Lots of footage of the natural setting, as well as explosive sites.

Notable moments that I noticed:

  • 00:27 – Double rainbow, all the way.
  • 01:34 – In this sweep over an explosives range, you can see various bomb casing components, including what looks like an aluminum sphere casing for an implosion weapon, a “Fat Man”/”Gadget” wiring harness (see the “Pressure Sensitive Switch” image here), various back ends of “Fat Man” casings, and what may be a scaled-down “Jumbo” container (see my update note below).
  • 02:11 – Cool looking dog.
  • 02:37 – Some kind of machine shop. At 02:44 there’s some kind of wiring assembly that looks an awful lot like the breadboard (?) that the “Fat Man” X-Unit components were anchored to.
  • 03:16 – Looks like part of the RaLa experiments.
  • 03:52 – Looks like it might be Robert R. Wilson, with too heavy a bag, off to go see “Trinity.” There’s a porkpie hat in the center of the crowd at 03:54 that might be Oppenheimer.
  • 04:30 – Another cool dog.
  • 04:42 – The return of cool dog #1.
  • 05:05 – Wait, I thought that the bikini debuted in 1946, and got its name from the nuclear tests at Operation Crossroads? I have been fed lies!
  • 05:33 – James Tuck meets Lassie, whose role at Los Alamos is still unwritten.
  • 06:17 – If you were doubting how cool the cool dog #1 was, this shot should convince you.
  • 06:44 – Physicists and their wives… on horses.
  • 07:48 – Physicists on skiis.
  • 08:10 – As usual, Hans Bethe knows what he’s doing.1
  • 09:37 – Oppenheimer at a wedding.

Watching this, I find myself constantly wondering about the intention of the camera operator(s). Why did they focus on this particular thing or that particular thing? Some things are obvious (the dog is a cool dog!), but others, less so. The longer they linger on something that I don’t recognize, the more I’m curious about what meaning it held to them, if any at all.

I don’t think this is going to cause anybody to rush out and re-think Los Alamos, but it’s kind of neat.

Update: Cheryl Rofer has posted an interesting piece about the relation of the “Concrete Bowl” (01:26) to the (aborted) “Jumbo” operation. Pretty cool.

  1. Edward Teller, I might note, probably couldn’t ski, on account of a foot injury he sustained as a youth. Just putting that out there. I note though that according to Peter Goodchild’s biography, apparently he took his family skiing when they lived in Chicago, so maybe I’m wrong. It’s an important historical question, you have to admit. []

8 Responses to “More Los Alamos Footage Released”

  1. john bass says:

    The Bikini did debut in the 50’s, however two-piece’s like that were already around. The Bikini got notoriety because it’s size was much smaller than what you see in the film.
    As for intention of the camera operator I think it was no more than the average person who picks up a home video camera today. They, too, don’t hold on a subject, stop and start way to much, wave it around too much, and take pictures instead of making pictures. That and have their subjects do things way goofier than they would normally do.

    • Hi John: I believe you on point 1 (I was mostly joking about the lies bit), but on point 2, I’m not as convinced. Filming today is a lot easier than it would have been back then, in terms of both the mechanism and the action of getting it developed. I suspect there was more to it than just looking around. It was the lingering on that breadboard (I don’t know if that’s the correct term, but the circular piece that anchored in all of the X-Unit wiring) that made me wonder what the heck it was (and consult some photos of the X-Unit pieces that John Coster-Mullen has) — I don’t think it was incidental. I’m sure there was some reason for looking at the messy desks other than “our desks are messy” — they must have had some meaning to them other than what is obvious. I could speculate as to that meaning, but it’s just a guess. Filming your vacation activities is pretty straightforward, but for the rest of it, I’m inclined to suspect the camera operator (who seems to change periodically) had something more than just whim in mind.

  2. Jacob Hamblin says:

    You also have to love the lego moon rover they get to travel in at 0:45. The weirdest thing about this footage is how young some of them look–practically kids, building the Bomb.

  3. John Blankenbaker says:

    You left out an important highlight — at 5:45 Maria Martinez makes an appearance! (OK so maybe it’s only a highlight to art historians and pottery collectors, but she was one of the most important American potters of all time).

    One odd thing is that she’s associated with Pueblo San Ildefonso and the label on the film says “Santa Clara Pueblo”, but the two are right next to each other so I suppose she could have been visiting.

    I do agree with some of the other comments that (i) the dogs of Los Alamos were cool, (ii) it was definitely rough and tumble and (iii) everyone was so young.

    I’m interested to hear Alex’s speculation (this is a blog after all) on what the intent of the camera operator was in filming the non-“physicists at play” scenes because I’m inclined to agree with John Bass.

    thanks for sharing…

  4. Ellen Bradbury says:

    I have seen parts of these films before, but there is new footage of what looks like S Site and Anchor Ranch. How did he get a camera inside the fence?
    Also a famous Los Alamos dog was Timoshenko, I think he was a Russian wolfhound and said to be a pacifist, mentioned often, who liked to lead every parade and used to sleep on the hospital steps. I was scared of him because he was so big.
    I would like to invite all to a webcast from the Santa Fe Institute on May 12-13 with RIchard Rhodes, Harold Agnew, Gregg Herken, Gino Segre, Jessica Flack, Linda Cordell and me, Ellen Bradbury. Is there a way you can post this. It will be a live webcast and we will take Tweeter questions. Can you help me with this? We want to get the word out since this will be an amazing opportunity.
    Very great website.

  5. Bob says:

    The video is no longer available. Any idea what happened?