HIGHLANDS RANCH, CO (July 18, 2016) -- Dr. H. William Koch, a physicist who lives at Wind Crest retirement community, secretly worked on the Manhattan Project that resulted in production of the atom bombs dropped in August 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He remembers those days as if it were yesterday.
On August 6, 1945 an American B-29 bomber dropped the world's first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people.
"President Truman did the right thing in ordering the bombings," said Koch, "because it ended the war and saved an estimated millions of lives that would have been lost had the United States been forced to invade Japan."
Koch's involvement with the Manhattan Project is an intriguing story of laboratory research played against the backdrop of war:
While Koch was a graduate student at the University a group of American scientists -- many of them refugees from fascist regimes in Europe -- became concerned with nuclear weapons research being conducted in Nazi Germany. In 1940, the U.S. government began funding its own atomic weapons development program, which came under the joint responsibility of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and the War Department after the U.S. entry into World War II. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with spearheading the construction of the vast facilities necessary for the top-secret program, codenamed "The Manhattan Project."
Enrico Fermi, the head of Manhattan Project, was located at University of Chicago Stadium where he built the first operating nuclear reactor and where he became aware of Koch's research on the separation of isotopes from uranium.
Fermi asked Koch to report on his PhD thesis for measuring Uranium fission with the only electron accelerator in the world for creating high energy x-rays-a 20MeV betatron. After the dignitaries heard the 23-year-old Koch give his report, Fermi gave Koch a contract and agreed to supply samples of separated uranium and plutonium isotopes to be measured on the unique betatron located in a laboratory at University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, 120 miles south of Chicago.
Koch's measurements were made in one month and reported to Fermi. As a contractor, Koch was invited to observe first nuclear bomb test ion July 16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Koch could not attend this historic event because he was then working in Oak Ridge, Tennessee at 2nd nuclear reactor copied from Fermi's reactor in Chicago. That was also where the huge uranium isotope separation facility was located that took two years to produce 120 pounds of uranium 235. All of those pounds were used in the Hiroshima bomb. The Nagasaki bomb used plutonium obtained from nuclear reactors located in Hanford, Washington.
Koch was given top "Q security clearance for the duration of his four- month work with Fermi. "I always suspected I was doing work that would lead to the end of the war, although I was never specifically told this," said Koch, who is today an adjunct professor at the University of Denver and who gives lectures about nuclear physics to his neighbors at Wind Crest.
Henry Stimson, who was President Truman's Secretary of War, issued an official certificate dated 6 August 1945 that states: "This is to certify that H. William Koch has participated in work essential to the production of the Atomic Bomb thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of World War II."
Koch would go on to become the Executive Director of the American Institute of Physics in New York. He retired in 1987 and moved to Wind Crest in 2007.