Wendell Long's Interview

Wendell Long, an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation, was born and reared in Oklahoma. Long was an undergraduate at Princeton University from 1954 to 1958 and received an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. His senior thesis advisor was Nathaniel Furman. An avid golfer, Long was on Princeton’s varsity golf team and competed at the NCAA National Championships, advancing all the way to the individual quarter finals. After graduating from Princeton, Long went on to receive a medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He served as a urologist in Oklahoma City for 40 years. Long started the Oklahoma City Planned Parenthood vasectomy program and served as the program’s only surgeon. The program became so successful that it became Oklahoma’s primary planned parenthood vasectomy center. At South Community Hospital in Oklahoma City, Long served as Chief of Staff for two years and sat on the Infection control committee. He also served on Oklahoma’s State Medical Association board for substance abuse. In 1968, Long was drafted and served as a ranking urologist in the Republic of Vietnam where he served as a Major in the Third Field Hospital. In the Republic of Vietnam, Long played on the only viable golf course in the nation in Saigon. The golf course was dotted with bomb craters from the war.

Date of interview: July 15, 2020

Interviewed by: Jessica Lambert 

Citation: Wendell Long, "Wendell Long’s Interview" interview by Jessica Lambert, Nuclear Princeton Project, Princeton University (2020)  https://nuclearprinceton.princeton.edu/wendell-longs-interview


JL: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your time as an undergrad at Princeton and if you experienced, or heard about or saw any engagement with nuclear things?

WL: Any engagement with what?

JL: Nuclear things.

WL: Oh nuclear things. Yes.

WL: Something very interesting, you might think this is interesting seeing that you go there. I was in an advanced physics class and - gosh, I can’t remember the guy’s name. It might come to me. Anyway, our professor was pretty exceptional, and he would devise very strange experiments that he would present in class and one of the things I remember, had nothing to do with nuclear, was that they had half-wave plates and I don’t know if you know anything about that, but you have a microphone on one side and about 5 feet apart on another side is a small speaker and there are plates barrier in between. And if you removed one of these little barriers, you’d hear sound, but you could remove all of the half-wave plates and you’d hear no sound although there was open space between. He also had an experiment that showed the triple point of water where it’s a liquid, solid, and gas all at the same time, basically. So he’s a very interesting guy, smart. About that time I was in a shop class and I wanted to build an underwater camera using plexiglass and machine shop but I was stymied over what kind of seals to use on the controls. Anyway, he said “I think you ought to ask the physics professor, he says you should use O-ring seals.” And this was at a time where they’re not as common as they are now. I didn't’ know what it was and he [the physics professor] tried to explain it and he said “oh, we use them on the cyclotron, i’ll take you down and show you what they look like.”

JL: Oh, wow.

WL: We went down these stairs in the physics department and there was this room with a big machine in it and there was a control panel that was about, oh, 8 foot by 8 foot and L- shaped and all sorts of gauges and controls and switches and knobs and stuff like that on it. And I said “oh do you work with the cyclotron?” and he said “I built it.”

JL: Wow!

WL: Shoemaker, his name was Shoemaker. Really interesting guy. I never was particularly interested in nuclear physics at that time. But then when I got into my junior year, I was taking a chemistry class by Dr. Nathaniel Furman and I was a chemistry major at that time and he taught quantitative analysis which I thought was interesting and he was a very interesting guy. He was a distinguished full professor and he had worked on the Manhattan Project which was the project in New Mexico where they developed the atomic bomb and had the first explosion in the history of atomic weapons.

Anyway, this was in the spring of the year and we’d had a nice hard winter as we usually do and you know I love golf. And there was this beautiful day, the first good day of spring, and I had a quantitative analysis lab. I thought well I’d never cut classes, but today i’m going to do it so I went out to the golf course, got on the first tee and there waiting to tee off was professor Furman. And he looked at me - he was supposed to be at the class too - and I looked at him and we both died laughing. We had a sort of an instant affection or whatever - friendship. I asked him to be my senior advisor and people said “oh my god you didn’t ask a full professor, they never are an advisor to undergraduates” but he was happy to be my advisor. So I had him as my advisor. He never told me anything about what they did during the Manhattan Project.

The only other thing I can remember about that is my parents vacationed at Shady Point Lodge in Minneapolis - not Minneapolis, Minnesota - the lake district. And my mother said that they heard that there was some munitions set off in the New Mexico desert that were seen in Albuquerque, which was like 100 miles away. And my father said that must have really been an extraordinary weapon so he recognized it because of the distance. But you see things, particularly if you are scientific bent, you remember and you have an impression. For instance, this January there was a comment on TV that there was this infectious disease in China and the city of Wuhan has closed its borders and isolated itself from the rest of China. And, out of medicine for 20 years, my first impression was - that must really be a horrible infectious disease. To cut off a city of 10 million plus people. Anybody [9:08] that says that the Chinese hid it, is an outright lie. The mere fact that they cut off the city shows that any reasonable person would know that this was a horrible thing. And that’s all I know about that. Those are my impressions.

JL: One thing that I'd like to go back to is your thesis advisor.

WL: Yes

JL: And, I guess I’m sort of wondering how you knew that he worked on the Manhattan Project. Like, you said that he didn’t really talk about it a lot, but was it sort of well known among students that he was working on the Manhattan Project?

WL: Yes, It was well known that he was on the Manhattan Project. I don’t know much about the Manhattan Project. I’ve been to Los Alamos birding. Saw a golden eagle. It's a beautiful part of America. There's a Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just north of there. But I don't know much about it other than that. Physics and particularly atomic physics is really interesting. Oh- Shoemaker after I left designed and built the Penn-Princeton accelerator betatron. I don’t know whether they mention that much at Princeton anymore but it’s an interesting thing.