photo of woman standing in front of blackboard

Meet the Woman Who Supervised the Computations That Proved an Atomic Bomb Would Work

Naomi Livesay worked on computations that formed the mathematical basis for implosion simulations. Despite her crucial role on the project, she is rarely mentioned as more than a footnote—until now

By Katie Hafner, The Lost Women of Science Initiative on August 3, 2023

Credit: Paula Mangin

Listen to the podcast:

Nic Lewis: She was walking past where Oppenheimer was living. And he had walked outta his house just a little before her and he paused and waited for her to catch up. he asked all about how she was doing, what was happening in the punch card operation, what kind of results they were getting. Did she need anything?

She was astounded.

Katie Hafner: During World War II, thousands of scientists took part in the three year race led by J. Robert Oppenheimer to build an atomic bomb that would end the war. Hundreds of those scientists were women. They were physicists, chemists, biologists, mathematicians … and computation experts, whose calculations helped determine if the theoretical ideas behind the bomb would work.

This is Lost Women of the Manhattan Project, a special series of Lost Women of Science focusing on a few of those women.