Oppenheimer never won a Nobel Prize, but these 31 scientists with ties to the Manhattan Project did – DNyuz

Oppenheimer never won a Nobel Prize, but these 31 scientists with ties to the Manhattan Project did

Despite his early work on what would later become known as black holes, J. Robert Oppenheimer never won a Nobel Prize. In part, it may have been because the “father of the atomic bomb” lacked the focus of some of his colleagues and constantly moved from topic to topic.

Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the eponymous prize for those who “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”

Over two dozen Nobel Prize winners worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. Most won for breakthroughs in physics, but a few received the award for chemistry or medicine. Joseph Rotblat, a Polish physicist who was the only scientist to leave the project for moral reasons, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since the first prize was awarded in 1901, 959 people have won a Nobel Prize, so they didn’t all work on the Manhattan Project. Most notably, the US Army intelligence office refused to grant Albert Einstein security clearance. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

Here’s what the 31 scientists with ties to the Manhattan Project won their Nobel Prizes for, and how they contributed to the research depicted in Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, “Oppenheimer.”

Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1922

Nobel Prize: Niels Bohr was a Copenhagen-born physicist who incorporated quantum mechanics when describing how electrons behave in atoms. The distance between the electrons and the nucleus is determined by whether an atom has absorbed or radiated energy.

Manhattan Project: After a harrowing escape from Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1943, Bohr began consulting on the Manhattan Project. Bohr, due to his fame and a pseudonym, Nicholas Baker, traveled as he did. He split his time between London, Washington, DC, and Los Alamos, where many of the scientists referred to him as “Uncle Nick.”

James Franck, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1925

Nobel Prize: James Franck and his co-winner Gustav Ludwig Hertz performed an experiment that supported Niels Bohr’s theory of atomic structure. They showed that applying a certain energy level caused bound electrons to jump to a higher-energy orbit.

Manhattan Project: Franck served as director of the chemistry division at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory. He was also the author of the Franck Report, which recommended openly demonstrating the power of the atomic bomb in a remote area before dropping it on Japan.

Arthur Compton, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1927

Nobel Prize: When a photon interacts with a charged particle, like an electron, the resulting decrease in energy is known as the Compton effect or Compton scattering. Compton discovered the effect in 1922 during an experiment with X-ray photons.

Manhattan Project: Compton was the Chicago Met Lab’s project director and later wrote “Atomic Quest,” a book about his time working on the bomb and the ways science and religion influence each other.

Harold Urey, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1934

Nobel Prize: Harold Urey distilled liquid hydrogen in 1932 in order to extract a hydrogen isotope. The resulting isotope, known as deuterium, is twice as heavy as regular hydrogen.

Manhattan Project: During the war, Urey contributed to the creation of the gaseous diffusion method for separating uranium-235 from uranium-238, though the Oak Ridge lab ended up using an electromagnetic separation technique instead. He also headed the Substitute Alloy Materials Laboratory at Columbia.

James Chadwick, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1935

Nobel Prize: Atoms contain positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. In 1932, James Chadwick showed that, in addition to protons, atomic nuclei contain other non-charged particles, called neutrons.

Manhattan Project: Chadwick led the Manhattan Project’s British Mission, made up of many European refugees. His position gave him unique access to both American and British plans and information regarding the project. He briefly lived in Los Alamos, before moving to Washington, DC.

Enrico Fermi, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1938

Nobel Prize: In the 1930s, Enrico Fermi discovered how to create radioactive isotopes by bombarding atoms with neutrons and developed theories on how to change this radioactivity by slowing down neutrons.

Manhattan Project: Fermi built an experimental reactor pile at the University of Chicago. When it went critical, it became the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction. Later, he went to Los Alamos and was present for the Trinity Test, where he jokingly took bets on whether the atmosphere would ignite.

Ernest Lawrence, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1939

Nobel Prize: A cyclotron is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to speed up protons so they can effectively bombard atomic nuclei and produce isotopes. Ernest Lawrence won the Nobel Prize for inventing this early particle accelerator.

Manhattan Project: Cyclotrons were crucial for enriching uranium, as were calutrons, also created by Lawrence, which were used at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, facility. Lawrence spent time at both Oak Ridge and Berkeley and also witnessed the Trinity Test. Both the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were named in his honor.

Isidor Isaac Rabi, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1944

Nobel Prize: Isidor Isaac Rabi created a technique using molecular beams to study the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei, which formed the basis of nuclear magnetic resonance.

Manhattan Project: Though he turned down Oppenheimer’s offer of the deputy director position, Rabi still consulted on the project. He spent time in Los Alamos during the Trinity Test, as well as doing a lot of radar research. Along with Fermi, he was a vocal opponent of the hydrogen bomb.

Hermann Muller, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1946

Nobel Prize: After exposing fruit flies to X-rays, Hermann Muller found that genetic mutations increased with higher doses.

Manhattan Project: Between 1943 and 1944, Muller was a civilian advisor for the Manhattan Project, consulting on experiments studying the effects of radiation.

Edwin McMillan, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1951

Nobel Prize: With Glenn Seaborg, Edwin McMillan won the Nobel Prize for their work creating new elements by bombarding uranium. McMillan produced element 93, neptunium, in 1940.

Manhattan Project: At Los Alamos, McMillan worked on implosion research. His wife, Elsie McMillan, wrote a memoir, “The Atom and Eve,” which included details about their time in New Mexico.

Glenn Seaborg, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1951

Nobel Prize: Seaborg built upon his co-winner’s work to isolate element 94, plutonium, in 1940.

Manhattan Project: Seaborg worked in the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory, figuring out how to extract plutonium from uranium. His research led to the industrialization of the Hanford site in Washington. He served as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to 1971.

Felix Bloch, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1952

Nobel Prize: Both Felix Bloch and Edward Purcell shared the prize because both developed methods that expanded on Rabi’s Nobel Prize-winning work, eventually leading to the widespread application of nuclear magnetic resonance.

Manhattan Project: Working on both theoretical problems with Hans Bethe and on implosion, Bloch was a versatile figure at Los Alamos. He left Los Alamos to study radar at Harvard University. His preference was for a culture that wasn’t militarized.

Edward Purcell, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1952

Nobel Prize: Working separately, Purcell and Bloch developed similar methods of measuring the response of changes in the magnetic response of nuclei in atoms, leading to their shared Prize.

Manhattan Project: Mostly involved with microwave radiation research at the MIT Rad Lab during the war, Purcell also assisted in some work for the Trinity Test bomb.

Emilio Segre, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1959

Nobel Prize: Co-winners Emilio Segre and Owen Chamberlain used a particle accelerator in 1955 to confirm the existence of antiprotons, the antiparticles of protons that have the same mass but the opposite charge.

Manhattan Project: As head of the radioactivity group at Los Alamos, Segre measured the radioactivity of fission products and the gamma radiation after the test bomb exploded at the Trinity site.

Owen Chamberlain, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1959

Nobel Prize: Chamberlain and Segre won for their joint work on antiprotons.

Manhattan Project: Still in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, during World War II, Chamberlain joined the Manhattan Project and worked under Segre. In the 1980s, he visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima to offer his apologies for the bombings.

Willard Libby, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1960

Nobel Prize: Carbon-14 is radioactive and decays at a fixed rate. Willard Libby created a method for using that rate to approximate the age of fossils and archaeological finds.

Manhattan Project: At Columbia University, Libby developed the gaseous diffusion method for separating isotopes from uranium needed for the atomic bomb. In the 1950s, he opposed a petition from fellow Nobel winner Linus Pauling that called for a ban on nuclear weapons testing. After the war, he married Leona Woods Marshall Libby, a physicist who also worked on the Manhattan Project.

Eugene Wigner, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1963

Nobel Prize: When protons and neutrons are far apart, the cohesive force that binds them is weak and gets stronger when they are closer together. Eugene Wigner discovered the correlation in 1933.

Manhattan Project: Wigner offered input on Leo Szilard’s 1939 letter, signed by Einstein, urging President Franklin D. Roosevelt to invest in uranium research. Wigner worked at the Chicago Met Lab designing production nuclear reactors for converting uranium into plutonium.

Maria Goeppert Mayer, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1963

Nobel Prize: Maria Goeppert Mayer and J. Hans Jensen were joint winners for their separate neutron shell work. Goeppert Mayer created a model showing that protons and neutrons in a nucleus are arranged in layers, with neutrons and protons orbiting the nucleus at each level. How the spins and orbits align or oppose each other determines the particle’s energy and demarcates each layer’s limits.

Manhattan Project: Working for Harold Urey at Columbia University’s Substitute Alloy Materials Laboratory, Goeppert Mayer studied uranium hexafluoride and researched photochemical reactions for separating isotopes. She later joined the Los Alamos lab to assist Teller with his hydrogen bomb research. For much of her career, Goeppert Mayer was stymied by nepotism rules that wouldn’t allow her to work at the same university as her husband, but she became a full professor at the University of California, San Diego, in 1960 at age 58.

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1965

Nobel Prize: Quantum electrodynamics describes the way matter particles interact with light and with each other. Richard Feynman came up with diagrams for visualizing the complex behavior of quantum particles. He shared the prize with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger for their own quantum electrodynamics contributions.

Manhattan Project: At 24, Fenynman had only recently completed his PhD when he arrived at Los Alamos. Hans Bethe was his boss. Feynmwan, whose eyes were not protected by dark glasses, watched Trinity explode behind the truck’s windshield. He hoped that the window would filter the UV light.

Julian Schwinger, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1965

Nobel Prize: The same year that Feynman won, Schwinger also received the Nobel Prize for reconciling quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, leading to the new quantum electrodynamics.

Manhattan Project: After a short stint at Chicago Met Lab, Schwinger focused on radar at the Radiation Laboratory at MIT. Four of his students went on to win their own Nobel Prizes.

Robert Mulliken, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1966

Nobel Prize: When he won the prize in 1966, Robert Mulliken called his description of molecular orbitals “unavoidably technical.” Using quantum mechanics, he created models of the way electrons move within a molecule that were more complex than Niels Bohr’s atomic model.

Manhattan Project: Mulliken was a director at the University of Chicago’s Met Lab and signed the Szilard Petition. Because of his contributions to molecular orbital theory, he was known as “Mr. Molecule.”

Hans Bethe, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1967

Nobel Prize: When light nuclei fuse to form heavier ones, it releases a large amount of energy, a process known as fusion. In 1938, Hans Bethe theorized that hydrogen nuclei and helium nuclei combining results in the incredible amount of energy that stars emit.

Manhattan Project: Oppenheimer recruited Bethe to head Los Alamos’ theoretical division, which was responsible for solving complicated problems involving implosion, critical mass, and initiation. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Bethe was one of the most senior members of the Manhattan Project still living and used his position to urge scientists all over the world to stop the development and manufacture of new weapons of mass destruction.

Luis Alvarez, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1968

Nobel Prize: In the 1950s, Luis Alvarez helped spur the discovery of new particles with his technique for filling bubble chambers with liquid hydrogen. These electrically charged particle left behind tiny bubbles which were photographed. Alvarez also improved methods of scanning and transferring the images to computers.

Manhattan Project: Moving from radar research to the Manhattan Project, Alvarez worked in a number of areas in both Chicago and Los Alamos. He studied the effects of shock waves with a series of implosion tests at Bayo Canyon. When the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, he rode in a separate plane that was recording data. In 1980 Alvarez and his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, proposed that an asteroid hit the earth and led to the dinosaurs’ extinction after discovering unusually high levels of iridium in sedimentary layers.

James Rainwater, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1975

Nobel Prize: Early models of atomic nuclei depicted them as spheres. James Rainwater proposed that nucleons interacting on the inner and outer parts create centrifugal pressure that distorts the nucleus’ shape. Aage Bohr independently came up with the same theory and verified it with Ben Mottelson, and all three jointly won.

Manhattan Project: Rainwater was a Columbia University graduate student who used the SAM lab’s cyclotron alongside experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu. He had to wait to receive his PhD until 1946 when his thesis was declassified.

Aage Bohr, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1975

Nobel Prize: About a month after Rainwater’s paper was published, Aage Bohr submitted his own on the same topic. A few years later, Aage Bohr and Mottelson jointly published their experimental work on nuclei shape.

Manhattan Project: Working as an assistant to his father, Niels Bohr, Aage Bohr proved instrumental in interpreting for some members of the Manhattan Project. Both Feynman and Segre complained that the elder physicist mumbled.

Val Fitch, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1980

Nobel Prize: Val Fitch and James Cronin performed experiments in 1964 on the decay of an elementary particle, the neutral K-meson. While it should decay into half matter and half antimatter to obey the laws of symmetry, they found instead that it decayed in a “forbidden manner,” asymmetrically. They found that decaying reactions behaved differently than those going forward in the time.

Manhattan Project: Fitch was just 21 years old when he was drafted into the Army’s Special Engineer Detachment. He became a member of the Trinity Test detonation team and helped design the timing apparatus.

Jerome Karle, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1985

Nobel Prize: The X-ray crystallography technique directs X-rays at crystals, and the resulting scattered radiation is measured. Initially, some guesswork was needed about the crystal’s structure. Joint winners Jerome Karle and Herbert Hauptman came up with a method for determining crystal structure from experimental results without the guesswork in the 1950s. Their breakthrough made studying the structure of molecules more efficient.

Manhattan Project: Researching plutonium chemistry, Karle worked alongside his wife, fellow physical chemist Isabella Karle, at the University of Chicago. The two scientists continued to work on X-ray Crystallography at the US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington DC, after the war.

Norman Ramsey, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1989

Nobel Prize: An atomic clock defines a second as the time it takes for a cesium atom to make over 9 billion radiation cycles. Some modern versions are only off by 1/15,000,000,000 of a second each year. Norman Ramsey‘s Nobel work made the extremely accurate clock possible. He demonstrated that a more accurate interference pattern could be created by using Rabi’s method, but with two oscillating field instead of just one. This allowed for better understanding the structure of atoms.

Manhattan Project: Joining the Los Alamos lab in 1943, Ramsey investigated ways to deliver the bomb to its target, realizing the B-29 was the only US aircraft that could carry it internally. He also assisted in assembling the bombs on Tinian Island.

Joseph Rotblat, Nobel Peace Prize, 1995

Nobel Prize: Shortly after its discovery, Joseph Rotblat worked on nuclear fission. In the 1950s, he began researching ways to use his nuclear physics expertise in the medical field instead of on bombs. He founded the nuclear disarmament organization, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and both he and the organization were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating for nuclear disarmament.

Manhattan Project: After briefly working with James Chadwick in Los Alamos, Rotblat left the Manhattan Project in late 1944. Later, he said that he left the Manhattan Project for moral reasons as it was obvious that Germany did not have the ability to create a nuclear bomb at the time. In 1955, he signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. Written by philosopher Bertrand Russell and signed by Enstinen shortly before his death, it warned that a war fought with hydrogen bombs “might possibly put an end to the human race.”

Frederick Reines, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1995

Nobel Prize: Beta decay converts a neutron into a proton and produces an electron. Because of the law of conservation of energy, it seemed like another particle, a neutrino, must also form. But for decades their existence was only theoretical. In the 1950s, Frederick Reines conducted nuclear reactor experiments that proved neutrinos exist.

Manhattan Project: Reines received his physics PhD in 1944. Feynman brought him into his group within the theoretical division at Los Alamos. After the war, Reines remained at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for several years, including while he conducted his neutrino research.

Roy Glauber, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2005

Nobel Prize: Light has properties of both waves and particles. In 1963, Roy Glauber applied quantum theory to describe the characteristics of different light sources, including lasers, contributing to the foundation of quantum optics.

Manhattan Project: At 18, Glauber was still a student at Harvard when he became one of the youngest scientists to join the Manhattan Project. With Feynman, he worked on the bomb’s critical mass calculations. Oppenheimer gave Glauber a job at the Institute for Advanced Study after he earned his PhD. During his long career as a professor at Harvard University, he participated in the Ig Nobel Prizes, which awards sillier scientific accomplishments.

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