Press Release: The Science Behin the Scenes

A series of programs at the CUNY Graduate Center will explore the real-life scientific drama behind the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Doctor Atomic, an opera by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams about the making of the atomic bomb. Historians, philosophers, authors, artists, and scientists -- including 10 veterans of the original bomb project as well as creators of the opera -- will participate in five separate seminar sessions to be held at the Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, on October 11, 14, and 17, followed by a series of readings on October 20, 21, and November 10. Presented by Science & the Arts at the Graduate Center in collaboration with the Met, the symposia are funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The programs are free and open to the general public on a first-come, first-seated basis, beginning one hour before each event. For further information, visit

Doctor Atomic, which opens at the Met on October 13, explores the psychological and intellectual pressures on the leading players at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, laboratory where the bomb is about to be tested as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. Among the dozens of participants in the Graduate Center programs will be John Adams; Nobel Prize-winning physicist Norman Ramsey; Harold Agnew, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who was an assistant to Enrico Fermi, the physicist who created the first nuclear reactor for the Manhattan Project; Fermi's granddaughter, the photographer Rachel Fermi; Peter Gelb, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera; Penny Woolcock, who is directing the opera; the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes, whose book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, served with other source materials as the basis for the libretto of Doctor Atomic; and the baritone Gerald Finley, who stars in the opera as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project who became known as "the father of the atomic bomb."

Panels, presentations, and other events are scheduled as follows:  

Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008Session I: Proshansky Auditorium, 1:00 to 3:00 PM The History, Science and Scientists of the Bomb Moderated by Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor, The City University of New York

  • Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
    The Making of the Atomic Bomb

  • Norman Ramsey, Nobel Laureate Professor Emeritus, Physics, Harvard University,
    Eyewitness to the Manhattan Project

  • Edward Gerjuoy Professor Emeritus, Physics, University of Pittsburgh
    Recollections of J. Robert Oppenheimer

  • Robert S. Norris, Senior Research Associate, Natural Resources Defense Council,
    The 1,000 Days to Trinity

Session II: Proshansky Auditorium 4:30 to 6:30 PM The Making of Doctor Atomic Moderated by Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera

  • John Adams, Composer

  • Penny Woolcock, Director

  • Julian Crouch, Set Designer

  • Gerald Finley, Baritone

Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008

Elebash Recital Hall, 6:30 PM J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Man, the Manager, the Physicist Moderated by Benjamin Bederson, Emeritus Professor of Physics, New York University  

  • David Cassidy, historian and author, Professor, Hofstra University
    Oppenheimer and his Physics

  • Robert Crease, philosopher and author, Professor, State University of New York, Stony Brook
    Oppenheimer: A Tragic Hero?

  • Jeremy Bernstein, physicist and author, New Yorker contributor and Professor Emeritus, Stevens Institute of Technology
    Personal Reflections on Oppenheimer

Friday, Oct. 17, 2008

Session I: Proshansky Auditorium, 3:00 to 5:00 PM The Manhattan Project: Places, People and Power Moderated by Brian Schwartz, Professor of Physics and Vice President, Research & Sponsored Programs, The Graduate Center of CUNY

  • Rachel Fermi and Esther Samra, Photographers
    Photographs from the Secret World of the Manhattan Project

  • Harold Agnew, Former Director, Los Alamos National Laboratory
    Chicago, Los Alamos, Tinian Island and the Atomic Bomb

  • Manhattan Project Veterans: Harold Agnew, Albert Bartlett, Benjamin Bederson, Robert J. Brown, Morton Camac, Hans Courant, Roy Glauber, E. Leonard Jossem, Nathan T. Melamed, Murray Peshkin.

Session II: Proshansky Auditorium, 6:30 to 8:30 PM Wartime Decisions and the Atomic Age Moderated by Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics and Research Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

  • Martin J. Sherwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Professor of History, George Mason University
    Talk: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb

  • Harry Lustig, Provost Emeritus, Professor of Physics, CCNY
    Talk: Did the Allies Know That The Germans Were Not Building an Atomic Bomb?

  • Gar Alperovitz, Bauman Professor of Political Economy, University of Maryland
    Talk: The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb

Readings and Talks

Monday, Oct. 20, 2008
6:30 p.m., Room C201
Ruth Howes, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Marquette University
Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project  

Ruth Howes discusses the various scientific problems that the women of the Manhattan Project helped to solve, as well as the discrimination they faced in their work; their abrupt recruitment for the war effort and anecdotes of everyday life in the clandestine, improvised communities; what happened to the women after the war; and their present attitudes towards the work they did on the bomb.

Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008
6:30 p.m., Skylight Room (Room 9102)
Joseph Kanon, Novelist, New York
Los Alamos

In a dusty, remote community of secretly constructed buildings and awesome possibility, the world’s most brilliant minds have come together. Their mission: to split the atom and end a war. But among those who have come to Robert Oppenheimer’s “enchanted campus” of foreign born scientists, baffled guards, and restless wives is a simple man, an unraveler of human secrets – a man in search of a killer.

Monday, Nov. 10, 2008
6:30 p.m., Elebash Recital Hall
Uranium + Peaches
A Play in One Act by Peter Cook & William Lanouette

A staged reading by Break A Leg Productions. The scientist behind the bomb wants to stop it. The politician behind the president wants to drop it. In the dramatic and fateful confrontation between Einstein's protégé, Leo Szilard, and Truman's mentor, Jimmy Byrnes, science battles politics in the timeless struggle against the corruption of human ingenuity.

  Science & the Arts at the Graduate Center presents programs in theatre, art, music, dance and film that bridge the worlds of art and science. Since 2001 it has presented 100 public events, ranging from conferences and concerts to science demonstrations on the streets of New York.

The Graduate Center is devoted primarily to doctoral studies and awards most of the City University of New York’s Ph.D.s. An internationally recognized center for advanced studies and a national model for public doctoral education, the school offers more than thirty doctoral programs as well as a number of master’s programs. Many of its faculty members are among the world’s leading scholars in their respective fields, and its alumni hold major positions in industry and government, as well as in academia. The Graduate Center is also home to more than thirty interdisciplinary research centers and institutes focused on areas of compelling social, civic, cultural, and scientific concerns. Located in a landmark Fifth Avenue building, the Graduate Center has become a vital part of New York City’s intellectual and cultural life with its extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events. Further information on the Graduate Center and its programs can be found at

Submitted on: SEP 1, 2008

Category: Press Room