Glenn T. Seaborg part 02

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Scientific contributions during the Manhattan Project

On April 19, 1942, Seaborg reached Chicago and joined the chemistry group at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago, where Enrico Fermi and his group would later convert uranium-238 to plutonium-239 in a controlled nuclear chain reaction. Seaborg's role was to figure out how to extract the tiny bit of plutonium from the mass of uranium. Plutonium-239 was isolated in visible amounts using a transmutation reaction on August 20, 1942, and weighed on September 10, 1942, in Seaborg's Chicago laboratory. He was responsible for the multi-stage chemical process that separated, concentrated and isolated plutonium. This process was further developed at the Clinton Engineering Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and then entered full-scale production at the Hanford Engineer Works, in Richland, Washington.

Seaborg's theoretical development of the actinide concept resulted in a redrawing of the Periodic Table of the Elements into its current configuration with the actinide series appearing below the lanthanide series. Seaborg developed the chemical elements americium and curium while in Chicago. He managed to secure patents for both elements. His patent on curium never proved commercially viable because of the element's short half-life, but americium is commonly used in household smoke detectors and thus provided a good source of royalty income to Seaborg in later years. Prior to the test of the first nuclear weapon, Seaborg joined with several other leading scientists in a written statement known as the Franck Report (secret at the time but since published) unsuccessfully calling on President Truman to conduct a public demonstration of the atomic bomb witnessed by the Japanese.

Professor and Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley

After the conclusion of World War II and the Manhattan Project, Seaborg was eager to return to academic life and university research free from the restrictions of wartime secrecy. In 1946, he added to his responsibilities as a professor by heading the nuclear chemistry research at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory operated by the University of California on behalf of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Seaborg was named one of the "Ten Outstanding Young Men in America" by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1947 (along with Richard Nixon and others). Seaborg was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1948. From 1954 to 1961 he served as associate director of the radiation laboratory. He was appointed by President Truman to serve as a member of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, an assignment he retained until 1960.

Seaborg served as chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1958 to 1961. His term coincided with a relaxation of McCarthy-era restrictions on students' freedom of expression that had begun under his predecessor, Clark Kerr. In October 1958, Seaborg announced that the University had relaxed its prior prohibitions on political activity on a trial basis, and the ban on communists speaking on campus was lifted. This paved the way for the Free Speech Movement of 1964-65.

Seaborg was an enthusiastic supporter of Cal's sports teams. San Francisco columnist Herb Caen was fond of pointing out that Seaborg's surname is an anagram of "Go Bears", a popular cheer at UC Berkeley. Seaborg was proud of the fact that the Cal Bears won their first and only National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball championship in 1959, while he was chancellor. The football team also won the conference title and played in the Rose Bowl that year. He served on the Faculty Athletic Committee for several years and was the co-author of a book, Roses from the Ashes: Breakup and Rebirth in Pacific Coast Intercollegiate Athletics (2000), concerning the Pacific Coast Conference recruiting scandal, and the founding of what is now the Pac-12, in which he played a role in restoring confidence in the integrity of collegiate sports.

Seaborg served on the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) during the Eisenhower administration. PSAC produced a report on "Scientific Progress, the Universities, and the Federal Government", also known as the "Seaborg Report", in November 1960, that urged greater federal funding of science. In 1959, he helped found the Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory with Clark Kerr.

Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission

After appointment by President John F. Kennedy and confirmation by the United States Senate, Seaborg was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1961 to 1971. His pending appointment by President-elect Kennedy was nearly derailed in late 1960 when members of the Kennedy transition team learned that Seaborg had been listed in a U.S. News & World Report article as a member of "Nixon's Idea Men". Seaborg said that as a lifetime Democrat he was baffled when the article appeared associating him with outgoing Vice President Richard Nixon, a Republican whom Seaborg considered a casual acquaintance.

While chairman of the AEC, Seaborg participated on the negotiating team for the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), in which the US, UK, and USSR agreed to ban all above-ground test detonations of nuclear weapons. Seaborg considered his contributions to the achievement of the LTBT as one of his greatest accomplishments. Despite strict rules from the Soviets about photography at the signing ceremony, Seaborg snuck a tiny camera past the Soviet guards to take a close-up photograph of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as he signed the treaty.

Seaborg enjoyed a close relationship with President Lyndon Johnson and influenced the administration to pursue the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Seaborg was called to the White House in the first week of the Nixon Administration in January 1969 to advise President Richard Nixon on his first diplomatic crisis involving the Soviets and nuclear testing. He clashed with Nixon presidential adviser John Ehrlichman over the treatment of a Jewish scientist, Zalman Shapiro, whom the Nixon administration suspected of leaking nuclear secrets to Israel.

Seaborg published several books and journal articles during his tenure at the Atomic Energy Commission. He predicted the existence of elements beyond those on the periodic table, the transactinide series and the superactinide series of undiscovered synthetic elements. While most of these theoretical future elements have extremely short half-lives and thus no expected practical applications, he also hypothesized the existence of stable super-heavy isotopes of certain elements in an island of stability. Seaborg served as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission until 1971.

Return to California

Following his service as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Seaborg returned to UC Berkeley where he was awarded the position of University Professor. At the time, there had been fewer University Professors at UC Berkeley than Nobel Prize winners. He also served as Chairman of the Lawrence Hall of Science where he became the principal investigator for Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) working with director Jacqueline Barber. Seaborg served as chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1958 to 1961, and served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972 and as President of the American Chemical Society in 1976.

In 1980, he transmuted several thousand atoms of bismuth into gold at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. His experimental technique, using nuclear physics, was able to remove protons and neutrons from the bismuth atoms. Seaborg's technique would have been far too expensive to enable routine manufacturing of gold, but his work was close to the mythical Philosopher's Stone.

In 1981, Seaborg became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Seaborg to serve on the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The commission produced a report "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform", which focused national attention on education as a national issue germane to the federal government. In 2008, Margaret Spellings wrote that

A Nation at Risk delivered a wake up call for our education system. It described stark realities like a significant number of functionally illiterate high schoolers, plummeting student performance, and international competitors breathing down our necks. It was a warning, a reproach, and a call to arms.

Seaborg lived most of his later life in Lafayette, California, where he devoted himself to editing and publishing the journals that documented both his early life and later career. He rallied a group of scientists who criticized the science curriculum in the state of California, which he viewed as far too socially oriented and not nearly focused enough on hard science. California Governor Pete Wilson appointed Seaborg to head a committee that proposed changes to California's science curriculum despite outcries from labor organizations and others.

Personal life

In 1942, Seaborg married Helen Griggs, the secretary of physicist Ernest Lawrence. Under wartime pressure, Seaborg had moved to Chicago while engaged to Griggs. When Seaborg returned to accompany Griggs for the journey back to Chicago, friends expected them to marry in Chicago. But, eager to be married, Seaborg and Griggs impulsively got off the train in the town of Caliente, Nevada, for what they thought would be a quick wedding. When they asked for City Hall, they found Caliente had none—they would have to travel 25 miles (40 km) north to Pioche, the county seat. With no car, this was no easy feat, but one of Caliente's newest deputy sheriffs turned out to be a recent graduate of the Cal Berkeley chemistry department and was more than happy to do a favor for Seaborg. The deputy sheriff arranged for the wedding couple to ride up and back to Pioche in a mail truck. The witnesses at the Seaborg wedding were a clerk and a janitor. Glenn Seaborg and Helen Griggs Seaborg had seven children, of whom the first, Peter Glenn Seaborg, died in 1997 (his twin Paulette having died in infancy). The others were Lynne Seaborg Cobb, David Seaborg, Steve Seaborg, Eric Seaborg, and Dianne Seaborg.

Seaborg was an avid hiker. Upon becoming Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1961, he commenced taking daily hikes through a trail that he blazed at the headquarters site in Germantown, Maryland. He frequently invited colleagues and visitors to accompany him, and the trail became known as the "Glenn Seaborg Trail." He and his wife Helen are credited with blazing a 12-mile (19 km) trail in the East Bay area near their home in Lafayette, California. This trail has since become a part of the American Hiking Association's cross-country network of trails. Seaborg and his wife walked the trail network from Contra Costa County all the way to the California–Nevada border.

There is a beauty in discovery. There is mathematics in music, a kinship of science and poetry in the description of nature, and exquisite form in a molecule. Attempts to place different disciplines in different camps are revealed as artificial in the face of the unity of knowledge. All literate men are sustained by the philosopher, the historian, the political analyst, the economist, the scientist, the poet, the artisan and the musician.

Glenn Seaborg

Seaborg was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1972 and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) of London in 1985. He was honored as Swedish-American of the Year in 1962 by the Vasa Order of America. In 1991, the organization named "Local Lodge Glenn T. Seaborg No. 719" in his honor during the Seaborg Honors ceremony at which he appeared. This lodge maintains a scholarship fund in his name, as does the unrelated Swedish-American Club of Los Angeles.

Seaborg kept a close bond to his Swedish origin. He visited Sweden every so often, and his family were members of the Swedish Pemer Genealogical Society, a family association open for every descendant of the Pemer family, a Swedish family with German origin, from which Seaborg was descended on his mother's side.

On August 24, 1998, while in Boston to attend a meeting by the American Chemical Society, Seaborg suffered a stroke, which led to his death six months later on February 25, 1999, at his home in Lafayette.

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