Seaborg and Thompson:
A non-Conciliatory View



" . . .He was primarily a man of good will, with many friends from all walks of life."




About Seaborg's Version of Events: Uh Oh!


Glenn Seaborg left an apparently thorough history of his personal and scientific accomplishments in his "journals." Especially when it is considered that Glenn Seaborg left three volumes of over 400 pages each about his life leading to the Second World War, plus four more volumes of equal size during his War years, then "about a dozen" more lengthy volumes covering the years from 1946 to 1958 and God knows how many more volumes after that.  It would seem impossible not to be appreciative of such thorough contemporaneous documentation of his life. It is true that a journal may not be thoroughly inclusive and as adequately documented as historians would prefer. It may be uncomfortably judgmental or contain personal details that are of little interest or use to historians. It probably will exclude events that history has later shown to be significant but at the time the journal was written were not even worth discussing. A journal's strength is that it presents an insight to the author; an unexpurgated "real time" look as he or she communicates from the past about their instant and immediate experiences. It might be expected that a professional chemist's journal would be especially useful since traditionally lab journals are expected to be written in ink and corrections made by lining out the previous entry so that the "trail" of my reasoning will be left in tact. In Seaborg's case, it might be hoped that there would be useful information about ownership of "intellectual property rights" (as they say these days in the Silicon Valley--a version of intellectual "who knew what and when" that carries accolades and patent money instead of jail sentences). 


None of these expectations are unreasonable from the library description, or on examination of the text of the journals themselves, save for the fact they are typed. Upon examination of the prefaces[1], it becomes apparent that Seaborg's voluminous journals are not "journals" at all. They are recreations of events from multiple sources and edited at much later date than they occurred. In other words, they combine to present a retrospective and highly edited image which allows Seaborg to put his "spin" on any given period of his life. The "journals" are nothing more than very poorly documented chapters of a carefully shaped autobiography presented as if it they are independent volumes of contemporaneous jottings revealing Seaborg's accomplishments and prescience in the field of nuclear chemistry.


Seaborg was an academic; he knew the difference between a journal and an autobiography. These volumes were published under contract from the Department of Energy--the Department of Energy knows the difference between journals and autobiographies and has no reputation or grant programs for creative writing or the use of literary devices in producing reports. These volumes simply represent an irrefutable and illustrative example of Seaborg's intellectual dishonesty and his desire "to have his cake and it eat too." They are not about his prescience in the field of nuclear chemistry; they are about his lack of principle, his insatiable desire for recognition, and his incredible narcissism. 


It is important to remember that while the content of these volumes was carefully chosen by Seaborg to prove he was even more competent than his Nobel Prize indicated, the process of these volumes demonstrated the extent of his insatiable narcissism and explained the sophisticated ease with which he stole credit for scientific accomplishments that belonged to others.  Seaborg did not need a detractor; he had more than enough hubris to do it to himself.    


So there is no confusion, the dialog that appears throughout the remainder of this paper is "inferential" historical fiction or a literary device in service of "inferential" historical fiction. In that regard, the dialogue deserves slightly less credibility than the reports of conversations given by Seaborg in his "journals." The narrative sections that appear as part of the text are not fiction but logical inferences drawn from facts documented by references. The author apologizes in advance for having only taken four semesters of college chemistry and for never earning a grade above a "C" in those. Additionally, not every effort has yet been made to eliminate factual or inferential errors in the text. However, the errors that remain are presently unknown and bona fide.

Table of Contents


Preface. 2

About Seaborg's Version of Events: Uh Oh! 2

Table of Contents.. 4

South Gate, 1925.. 5

The Lockers in the Science Building. 5

UCLA 1929-1934.. 8

Twenty Miles Each Way in a Model "A" Phaeton.. 8

Berkeley and California 1935-1940.. 9

The Suck Up Literary Years. 9

South Gate, 1940.. 11

Plutonium around the Christmas Tree. 11

Berkeley--1941.. 13

In the UC Labs of Seaborg. 13

Chicago--1942-1943.. 14

Seaborg's Ass in a Sling at the Met Lab?. 14

A whole microchemical microgram. 14

A broken shelf and a quarter of the world's plutonium are lost. 15

A friend in need is a friend indeed. 15

Clinton Semi-Works, Oak Ridge--1943-44.. 19

Practicing First at "Site X".. 19

Hanford, Washington 1944-1945.. 22

The Task for Thompson in Hanford.. 22

Chicago--1944-1946.. 25

Back in Seaborg's Met Lab Section C-1.. 25

Americium and Curium... 26

Berkelium and Californium... 29

Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley--1946-1950.. 31

Graduate School and the Dissertation.. 31

Seaborg's Literary Tergiversation.. 33

Berkelium and Californium 1949-1950.. 35

A Final Word.... 37

About Stanley G. Thompson.. 37

About Glenn T. Seaborg. 38


South Gate, 1925

The Lockers in the Science Building


Both the boys were younger than their ninth grade classmates since both boys had skipped a grade in grammar school. Glen Seaborg's parents had not moved to the United States until he was ten years old[2] and he still spoke with an accent. Glen was tall, gawky, and socially and physically awkward. It did not stand in the way of his high opinion of himself. He dreamed of a literary career where those qualities would not matter. His first affectation in the pursuit of the career was to change the spelling of his name from "Glen" to "Glenn" when he enrolled in High School. Stan Thompson was the opposite of Glenn Seaborg. Thompson was athletic, coordinated, and confident. He was a handsome, affable kid. He was good with his hands. He resigned himself to probably becoming a truck driver.


They met each for the first time on their first day of high school in the fall of 1925. Their book lockers, as fate would have it, were just outside the chemistry lab, upstairs in the Science Building at David Jordon Starr High School in South Central Los Angeles. Thompson, who was slightly shorter than average in stature, had the locker above Seaborg. Glancing quickly at the card with the locker's combination, Stan deftly opened his locker and put away his books. He watched with some sympathy as the tall boy (who some classmates had already termed "Stork-borg" and "Sea-bird") assigned the locker beneath his struggled unsuccessfully to make the combination work.


As the time for classes to begin approached and Seaborg still had not been able to open his locker, Stan spoke up, "Hi, I'm Stan Thompson. I am a freshman too. Can I give you some help there?"


"Uh, I'm Glenn Seaborg, that's Glenn with two N's. I do not know what is the matter with this thing; I am doing just what the card says. I am going to be a literary major and not a machinist like my father. I hate mechanical devices."


"Well, these lock mechanisms have a lot of years of use in them, I'm sure some of them are kind of tricky to coax open," Thompson lied.


Just then, an upperclassman wearing a varsity athlete's sweater walked by and said in a loud taunting voice, "Hey Stork-borg, your crack is showing."


It was not true but it might have been. It was all Stan could do not to laugh. Seaborg was a sight, bent over, clutching his note book and school paraphernalia in one hand while he fumbled with the combination with the other. He was so tall and the locker was so low he looked like a contortionist. He had managed to pull out the tails of his shirt by bending over so far. Seaborg was humiliated. It did not help. With each unsuccessful try, he would bend back toward his notebook where the combination card was trapped under ham sized hand. Under pressure, he could not remember either the combination or what he was supposed to do with it.


"I don't know if I can let you help or not. They told us not to give our combination to anyone else," Glenn whined to Stan with some uncertainly.


"Well, suit yourself, but unless you are going to being storing a lot of cash in your locker, it's not likely there will be anything in there that I don't already have in mine. Besides, if I stole it, where would I hide it, in my locker?" and both boys laughed since Thompson's locker was still open and because of it's location wouldn't provide much protection from Seaborg's eyes should it be filled with things stolen from his locker."


"I don't know," Seaborg whined. "I don’t want to get in trouble but if I don't get the locker open soon I'm going to be late for class. I don't know what to do," Seaborg was pathetic; he made it sound like there was a plot to make him look bad.


"Hey Stork-borg, what's the matter, wasn't there enough air up there?" another taunting voice rang out in the hallway to mock Seaborg's doubled over posture.


"I have a solution," Stan announced as much out of concern for the teasing Glenn was taking as for the fact he had no where to store his books, "I'll trade lockers with you and then your lock won't be so tricky and your locker will be higher and easier for you to use too.  That way, we'll share the risk and both of us will know the combination to the other's locker."


"That would be great," Seaborg sighed with considerable relief and began loading his things in Thompson's locker before Thompson even had a chance to clear it. Then, Glenn slammed the locker closed and dashed off for class without saying, "Thank you."


Glenn had not even left his combination card but Stan had memorized the combination in anticipation of helping him so it was not a problem. The lower tier locker opened on the first try. It was not a tricky lock; Seaborg was just clumsy and nervous. Thompson re-opened the upper locker and moved his things to the lower locker. Seaborg's sudden departure had made Stan tardy to his first class. Stan did not mind, he was just grateful he wasn't Glenn Seaborg. Later that afternoon, Seaborg couldn't open the top locker any better than he had the bottom locker and had to ask Stan for help. Stan patiently and cheerfully obliged.


At the end of the day, Thompson thought he had made a new friend by showing a stranger a small kindness. Thompson understood kindness but he did not understand narcissism. Glenn T. Seaborg had a different interpretation of the days events. He was slighted by Thompson's competence and never forgave him for it. In fact, Seaborg never forgave Thompson for the hundreds of other favors that Stan would volunteer to do for him over the next 29 years. Of course, although he experienced them as slights, Glenn always accepted the favors; came to depend on them; and even solicited them. None-the-less Seaborg never forgave Thompson for be being able enough to help him do things he could not do for himself. Seaborg understood narcissism but he did not understand kindness. In the end, theirs would be a profitable relationship for both but Glenn Seaborg would do disproportionately better and at Stan Thompson's expense.


UCLA 1929-1934



Twenty Miles Each Way in a Model "A" Phaeton


Stan Thompson and Glenn Seaborg commuted to classes together at UCLA. It was convenient for Glenn because he had a tutor as well as a ride. Because of the encouragement he received from their high school chemistry teacher, Stan wanted to become a scientist.  Accordingly, he loaded up on physics courses and as well as chemistry courses. Glenn followed right along. When Stan got a job in the chem lab as an assistant, he put in a good word for Glenn. Glenn needed it.


The drive itself was a long one. Stan Thompson drove a Model "A" Phaeton. Henry Ford used the term "Phaeton" to describe a touring sedan. The Model "A" was never intended to be a luxury automobile but the Phaeton was a poor man's luxury convertible. Even when it was "converted," it did not keep the elements out much. Damn! Driving it to college at UCLA was a social and sensory experience[3]. It was a glorious time in Southern California to drive: the weather almost always cooperated, the air was clear, the roads were paved, the traffic was light, and the views of the mountains and seashore were as plentiful and as beautiful as anywhere on earth. It took about an hour each way. Every day's arrival on campus was a social event. It was hard for Stan Thompson to believe that life could be that good or that much fun.


Glenn Seaborg resented every minute of the pleasure and attention Stan Thompson got from that car. He also never paid for a drop of gas for it.

Berkeley and California 1935-1940

The Suck Up Literary Years


When Stan and Glenn arrived in Northern California, Thompson went to work for Standard Oil in the Richmond refinery laboratory. Seaborg could not find work and returned to the University where he perceived more opportunity for his literary talents in Chemistry. Seaborg was second rate scientist but a first rate politician. He knew that to be the fact from the beginning. In an unusual moment of candor, Seaborg, in the second paragraph of his 1978 tribute[4] to Thompson, writes of Thompson, “He avoided the administrative route to fame, preferring to work in the laboratory.” Here we find Seaborg confessing that he was only an administrator’s administrator and that it was Thompson who was the chemists’ chemist.


No where is Seaborg's lack of scientific talent more evident than the period before the Second World War where Seaborg cannot escape scrutiny as a sole contributing (“wet fingered”) chemist. Examining the record of his publications, all that can be said is that he worked hard. He was not a first author on a paper until the year after he took his degree. In fact, he was not even the first author on the paper that reported the results of his doctoral dissertation. Up until his scientific papers became top secret because of the War, Seaborg appears to have done his best science sitting behind a typewriter or while grinding out laboratory procedures that someone else had developed. Hard worker, yes; chemical genius, no.


Still, Seaborg’s greatest talent was recognizing genius and knowing how to use it for his own aggrandizement. His strategy was invariant: first he catered the favor of powerful or exceptional scientists by being their loyal sycophant, willing to doing their most tedious scientific laboratory or writing chores (and skillfully being included as the last author instead of as a footnote). The most obvious case was the School of Chemistry's ancient Dean Gilbert. Gilbert was a very powerful man who reported only to the President of the University (by special arrangement). After receiving his Ph.D., Seaborg served Lewis  little better than as an over educated clerk[5] for two years just to remain in the rarified Berkeley atmosphere.


Another powerful scientist Seaborg pursued was Ernest Lawrence. Seaborg courted his secretary. Seaborg also drafted behind the talents of physicists Livingood and Segre to build his reputation by his associations with them. For his efforts, Seaborg eventually gained access to Lawrence's famous "atom smashing" cyclotron.


By 1939, after having been his handmaiden for two years, Lewis appointed Seaborg as an Instructor in the Chemistry Department. In 1940, he and another instructor, J.W. (Joe) Kennedy were given the plum of all plums, the permission to continue the research[6] of Edwin McMillan. McMillan synthesized and identified the first transuranium element, atomic number 93, neptunium. He was on his way to doing the same for element 94 (later to be called plutonium) when he was summoned to MIT to work on RADAR. McMillan's research had been so spectacular in the field of nuclear chemistry that he would later be awarded one-half the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 for his accomplishments during an eighteen-month period in 1939-1941.


"As fate would have it, the discovery of the first transuranium element - element 93, neptunium - was a by-product of studies of the fission process conducted by E. M. McMillan. McMillan, working at the University of California at Berkeley, in the spring of 1940, was trying to measure the energies of the two main fragments from the neutron-induced fission of uranium. He found that there was an unstable, radioactive product of the reaction -one which did not recoil sufficiently to escape from the thin layer of uranium undergoing fission. He suspected that this was a product formed by the capture of a neutron in the uranium. McMillan - and P. H. Abelson, who joined him in this research - were able to show9 on the basis of their chemical work, that this product was an isotope of the element with atomic number 93 - neptunium-239, formed by neutron capture in uranium-238, followed by electron emission (beta decay).


McMillan's and Abelson's investigation of neptunium showed that it resembles uranium - not rhenium, as predicted - in its chemical properties. Therefore, analogous to uranium - which was named after the planet Uranus -element 93 was named neptunium, after the next planet, Neptune. This was the first definite evidence that an inner electron shell (the so-called 5f electron shell) is filled in the transuranium region[7].



Sucking up had obviously paid off a big benefit to Glenn T. Seaborg.  


South Gate, 1940

Plutonium around the Christmas Tree


When Seaborg “inherited” McMillan’s work on synthesizing and identifying Element 94 (Plutonium), Seaborg could see an extraordinary scientific (not to mention career) opportunity if only he could muster the chemical genius to pick up where McMillan left off. Unfortunately, chemical genius was not Seaborg’s long suit. Examining his administrative genius, we find a good example of Seaborg using the scientific genius of others to solve his career problems in what might be termed the Christmas crisis of 1940. Frustrated by his inability to make progress in the discovery of Element 94 in McMillan’s absence, Seaborg invited his neptunium lab partner, J.W. (Joe) Kennedy, to accompany him to his parents home in South Gate, California for the Christmas Holidays in 1940[8]. In terms of lab activities, it was not an auspicious time for both of them to be gone at the same time since it meant leaving graduate student, Arthur Wahl, in the lab by himself in the midst of irradiating the next set of samples in their search for Plutonium. Aside from trying get rid of Kennedy's competition by "placing" Kennedy at UCLA, the other reason for the trip was to have lengthy discussions about research strategy with Thompson. Thompson was also visiting his grandmother in South Gate that same Christmas season. A side benefit was that Thompson’s grandmother could entertain his new wife, Alice, while Stan spent the time to be brought up to date on the particulars of what Seaborg had learned from Segre and inherited from McMillan. For Thompson and Seaborg, this meeting started a long tradition of "off site" consultation meetings in Southern California.


In any event, whether because of Thompson or the water in South Gate, at the beginning of the New Year 1941, Kennedy and Seaborg left Southern California and returned Berkeley to discover Plutonium 238 in February and Plutonium 239 (the fissionable Plutonium on which the construction of an atomic bomb hinged) in March. Seaborg never comments on it but it was J.W. Kennedy, not Glenn Seaborg, who was the first author[9] on the paper with Segre announcing synthesis and identification of Pu239, the plutonium that swept Seaborg into the Manhattan Project. Seaborg just drafted behind Kennedy and Segre. The full chemical properties of Pu239 would not be investigated until Seaborg reached the Chicago Laboratory and had access to scientists who could work on the ultramicrochemical scale[10]. More drafting along behind giants for Seaborg the science writer. To get to Chicago, in the early spring of 1942, Seaborg submitted a secret paper on Pu239 to a professional journal and to the Government. Consequently, he was named the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory Section Chief for Section C-1 in the Manhattan Engineering District. Why Seaborg and not J.W. Kennedy (who actually did the work)? It was easy. Seaborg and Kennedy were so close they might as well have been best friends (certainly, Seaborg was always borrowing his car). Seaborg induced Kennedy to leave Berkeley for at least two other jobs (both of which Seaborg had turned down). One of these jobs was at UCLA[11] and the other was a with American Cyanamid[12] in the East. Kennedy accepted the latter and after a few months, hated his work and asked to return to Berkeley. Seaborg assisted in his return but Kennedy had been displaced from the transuranium team. He allied himself with the Lawrence physicists and ended up at Los Alamos. After Kennedy, Wahl would have been the next most logical choice because he knew far more about the chemistry of Plutonium than Seaborg. Conveniently, Wahl was too invaluable at Berkeley and could not accompany his major professor to Chicago. It is safe to conclude that it was the personal treachery, not the chemical genius, of Glenn Seaborg that resulted in his selection over Kennedy's. In the end, Seaborg owed most everything he was, and every opportunity he would obtain, to Edwin McMillan, J.W. Kennedy, and Stan Thompson. What was left, he owed his typist, Helen Griggs, and so he married her and took her with him to Chicago. She thought it was because he loved her.




In the UC Labs of Seaborg


"The chemical properties of elements 93 and 94 were studied by the so called "tracer method" at the University of California for the next year and a half. This meant that invisible amounts of these elements were followed in chemical studies by their telltale radioactivity. These first two trans-uranium elements were referred to by the group simply as "element 93" and "element 94," or by code names, until the spring of 1942, at which time the first detailed reports on them were written. The early work, even in those days, was carried on under a self-imposed cover of secrecy. Throughout 1941, element 94 was referred to by the code name of "copper," which was all right until it was necessary to introduce the element copper into some of the experiments. This posed the problem of distinguishing between the two. For awhile1 plutonium was referred to as "copper" and the real copper was "honest-to-God copper." This seemed clumsier and clumsier as time went on, and element 94 was finally christened the element "plutonium," after the planet Pluto and analogous to uranium and neptunium.


"The plutonium isotope of major importance is the one with mass number 239 - that is, the nuclear species having 94 protons and 145 neutrons. Other plutonium isotopes have the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons. The search for this isotope, as ~ decay product of neptuniwn-239, was being conducted by the same group, with the collaboration of E. Segre, simultaneously with the experiments leading to the discovery of plutonium. The isotope plutonium-239 was identified and its possibilities as a nuclear energy source were established during the spring of 1941[13]."




Seaborg's Ass in a Sling at the Met Lab?

A whole microchemical microgram. 

"The realization that plutonium, as plutonium-239, could serve as the explosive ingredient of a nuclear weapon, and that it might be created in quantity in a nuclear reactor or "atomic pile" - as it was called then -followed by chemical separation from uranium and the highly radioactive fission products, 'made it imperative to carry out chemical investigations of plutonium with weighable quantities, even through only microgram quantities could be produced using the cyclotron sources of neutrons avail­able at that time.  In August 1942, B. B. Cunningham and L. B. Werner at the wartime Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago, succeeded in isolating about a microgram of plutonium-239 -- less than one ten-­millionth of an ounce -- which had been prepared by cyclotron irradiations. Thus, plutonium was the first man made element to be obtained in visible quantity. The first weighing of this man-made element took place on September 10, 1942, and was performed by investigators Cunningham and Werner.


"These so-called "ultramicrochemical" studies conducted by the research workers on plutonium were remarkable. It was possible to perform many significant studies with almost invisible amounts of material - work that was carried out under a microscope. If extremely small volumes are used, even microgram quantities of material can give relatively high concentra­tions in solution; and with the development of balances of the required sensitivity, micrograms were also sufficient for gravimetric analysis. Liquid volumes in the range of 1110th to 1/100,000th of a cubic centimeter were measured with an error of less than one per cent by means of finely-calibrated capillary tubing. Chemical glassware, such as test tubes and beakers, was constructed from capillary tubing and was handled with micro­manipulators. This ultramicrochemical work was of necessity, since almost all the plutonium used in experiments up until the operation of the Clinton Graphite Reactor was cyclotron produced and available in only microgram quantities. The first sizeable quantities of plutonium on the research scale were obtained from the Graphite Reactor in early 1944[14]."


A broken shelf and a quarter of the world's plutonium are lost.

What if the Cunningham and Werner's Pu239 was different than Kennedy and Seaborg's? That would have been an embarrassment. Everything had been so conveniently secret in the reporting of Kennedy and Seaborg's Pu239 and its chemical properties would not be described until after the War. It is possible that Seaborg was not confident that Kennedy and he and Segre ever found Pu239 at all. Under those circumstances, wouldn't it have been very convenient for Seaborg had the plutonium he brought to Chicago been lost? It was not Cunningham's and Werner's because that's in a jar as a showpiece in Chicago. Without identifying exactly whose Pu239 was lost, Seaborg reported in his WWW bio:


"We had our share of setbacks. One night a shelf collapsed because a worker overloaded it with radiation-shielding lead. A vial crashed on the bench and a quarter of the world's supply of plutonium soaked into the Sunday Tribune[15]."


A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Courtesy of Cunningham and Werner, at least Seaborg finally had a visible quantity of Pu239 to show the Army Generals. Still, it was not a very large quantity to use to design a chemical process that had to work on an industrial scale to safely produce Pu239 in "lots" of about a pound per day. By then, Seaborg was on notice that within ten months, the DuPont Corporation needed a final decision from him on a scalable chemical separation process. The creation of this process was the reason for the existence of Seaborg’s lab. Once a chemical separation process was chosen, it would fix the design of both the pilot plant (at the Clinton Semi-Works in Oak Ridge Tennessee) and the huge facility for the first industrial manufacturing and purification of a man made element, fissile grade plutonium, in Hanford, Washington. Seaborg was a young academic chemist, not a seasoned industrial chemist.


After the weighing of the whole microgram of visible Pu239, a man dressed in a brown Army uniform with Generals' stars on his shoulders approached Glenn Seaborg. The General was of frightening proportions: he was a couple of inches taller than Seaborg and filled out very solidly. He outweighed Seaborg by as much as forty pounds and all of it was muscle. The man looked grizzled and rough. He looked grizzled and rough because he was grizzled and rough and to prove it he roughly put his huge, grizzled hand on Seaborg's shoulder and squeezed until Seaborg winced. He looked young Glenn in the eye and said, "Son, if you fuck this up with your college boy arrogance, I'll personally put your ass in a sling." Seaborg knew the General meant it.


Glenn T. Seaborg was scared to death. The General had him pegged dead to rights. Seaborg had never been anything but bullshit in the laboratory. He could talk and write a fine game but he could not perform in the lab nor could he tell others what to do there. He was a science writer, not a research chemist. Seaborg was close to desperate. Now he was the senior person and he had no genius to draft behind. Normally, at a time like this, he would have called his friend Stan Thompson for some reassurance and for some ideas. He could not do that now because of the distances involved and the secrecy imposed by the Manhattan Project. These few months since he left California had been the longest period of time he had been separated from Stan Thompson by any greater barrier than a local telephone call since they were both thirteen years old! With this excellent opportunity at the Met Lab and unlimited funding, Seaborg had hoped he could prove himself the scientist he wished he was but all he had managed to prove was that he was in way over his head.


Seaborg hoped he could become the chemist with industrial experience who understood nuclear chemistry. He had hoped he would have been able to master the industrial aspects of the job and that he would get to be the hero. He was obsessed by the fear that if Glenn T. Seaborg did not do it himself and had to call in an outsider, Seaborg would be displaced by the new expert. After all, why would a man with the ability to purify plutonium need Seaborg? The conversation with the General changed things. Seaborg was now convinced that if Glenn T. Seaborg wasn't going to be that man to purify plutonium himself, he had sure as fuck better find the man who was going to do it soon, so he called for his confidant and scientific colleague over the previous seventeen years, Stan Thompson. He wouldn't have taken the job as Section Chief of C-1 if he didn't know that if worst came to worst, he could always call on Stan to bail him out. Stan had never let him down yet. 


Outsiders might have some reservations about Stan: he was as young as Seaborg and lacked the advanced degrees. Glenn knew Stan was perfect. Stan knew everything that was going on in Seaborg's lab at Berkeley. God knows, he had given enough free consulting time to Seaborg since the two of them had arrived Berkeley in 1935. In the wake of getting McMillan's lab, Stan had become deeply involved in helping Glenn.


As to producing a pound of plutonium a day, Stan worked for a fucking refinery, for Christ's sake. He knew about industrial grade equipment and process engineering. Thompson was exactly the “wet fingered” chemical genius who had the intellectual and laboratory abilities to refine plutonium on an industrial scale. Glenn also knew he could trust Stan not to steal all the credit from him. If he had brought Stan with him from the beginning, he would not be in such a mess now.


Seaborg knew this was going to be a considerable imposition on Stan and his wife, Alice. It would not be easy for Thompson to have to put up with all the academic prejudice he would encounter for his lack of advanced degrees. To take the job, he would even have to become a graduate student at Cal. Stan did not need a graduate degree or the bullshit that went with getting one: he had a draft deferment and a very promising future with Standard Oil. Still, Glenn knew Stan would be easy to manipulate with a call to patriotic duty and a plea for personal loyalty from a close friend. Besides, it was an interesting chemical problem.


By urging Thompson to come to Chicago, Glenn T. Seaborg took the wisest and biggest step on his “administrative route to fame[16].” The route ultimately led him to share the Nobel Prize with Edwin McMillan in 1951.


Stan and Alice Thompson arrived in Chicago on October 1, 1942.  Seaborg had been without his consulting/confidante services for five months; they were the longest five months since they first met. Then, according to Seaborg,


“Within three months, he [Thompson} conceived and tested experimentally the Bismuth Phosphate Process which was put into successful operation at Hanford, Washington within two years. This process represented the largest scale-up in history, a chemical and technological achievement of enormous proportions. In the course of this very successful development, about whose potential success much skepticism was expressed, he [Thompson] directed the training of hundreds of chemists[17].


"When we moved into the New Chemistry Building in December. 1942. We at last had space to test the various separation processes which had been proposed. Although our knowledge of plutonium chemistry grew at an impressive rate. Our research did not indicate that any one process had a clear-cut advantage.


"Early in 1943 we decided that we would use an oxidation-reduction process in aqueous solution, but it was not at all clear whether lanthanum fluoride or bismuth phosphate would be the best carrier of plutonium. Until we made that decision, Du Pont could not fix the design of the Oak Ridge pilot plant. I remember we discussed the alternatives at a meeting in Chicago on June 1, the deadline which Du Pont had established for the decision. Because the engineering data did not indicate a clear choice, Greenewalt turned to me for an opinion. With the fate of the whole wartime project hanging on my judgment, I said I was willing to guarantee at least a 50-percent recovery of plutonium from the bismuth phosphate process, developed by Stanley G. Thompson of our group. With that assurance, Greenewalt focused most of his engineering talent of his organization on bismuth phosphate. It would be eighteen months before I could be certain that my decision had been the right one[18]."


"So Stan, what do you think? Which do we go with?"


"No question Glenn, bismuth phosphate. How many times do I have to tell you that lanthanum fluoride is too toxic? You won't be able to find equipment that will hold up to it nor will be able to live with yourself if there is an unnecessary industrial accident that kills more people than it should and screws up the production schedule."


"Greenewalt tells me the same General who threatened to put my ass in a sling told him yesterday that the General would drop all six of our young balls in hot sand if we get this wrong," whined Glenn.


"Knowing the general, I'm sure he means it. You think lanthanum fluoride is going to keep your balls out of hot sand?" replies Stan, shaking his head.


"The general likes lanthanum fluoride because it makes for such an efficient recovery," whines Glenn.


"Well, Glenn, you can go with your General and lanthanum fluoride but you will have to do it without me. In fact, Alice and Standard Oil will thank you for it because that will get us back to California real soon. I am not going to lie and tell you I can make a process work that cannot be engineered safely or reliably. I do not care what percentage of plutonium lanthanum fluoride recovers when it works. It will not work and in the end you will have to go with bismuth phosphate anyway. You might want to consider that when you do, you will have to find somebody else to make even bismuth phosphate work because I won't be available again."


"How can you be so sure of bismuth phosphate, Stan?"


"These things come easy too me, I guess," Stan said in a friendly way.


Clinton Semi-Works, Oak Ridge--1943-44

Practicing First at "Site X"


Seaborg couldn't do without Thompson at his side.  He couldn't hold his own without technical help from Stan because it was Thompson who was the scientist in charge of developing the processes that were relevant to the War effort.  Stan always succeeded while Seaborg's other pet projects were either discontinued on orders from above or cut back in their priority. Every meaningful contribution Seaborg's C-1 Section made to the War Effort came from the hard work and genius of Stan Thompson.  When Seaborg traveled to the Oak Ridge and the Clinton Semi-Works, he had to take Stan Thompson with him.  They traveled together to Site-X for the first time on September 14th of 1943.  They made additional trips on October 9th and November 3rd of 1943, and again on Jan 16th of 1944.  Additionally, Thompson led a team (without Seaborg) to trouble-shoot the opening of the separation unit from November 20th to December 15th of 1943.


"Let me recount for a few moments some of the exciting history of those early days associated with the Graphite Reactor. Among the major problems facing the Manhattan Project in the production of plutonium for military uses were of course the development of a production reactor and the chemical procedures by which to separate the produced plutonium-239 from the parent uranium and all the highly radioactive fission products. My coworkers and I spent many months on the latter problem at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory and developed a promising separations method based on the precipitation and dissolution of bismuth phosphate. Much of the work was performed on the ultramicrochemical scale. It was felt necessary to test this process on a large pilot plant scale.


"It was agreed as early as September 1942 to locate the plutonium pilot plant in Tennessee. The move to the Clinton Engineer Works, or Clinton Laboratories, as the site was known in those days, took place during the fall of 1943. The plant had been largely built by that time; and a nearby village, given the name of Oak Ridge, was constructed to hou8e the personnel associated with the operation. M. D. Whitaker became the head of the plant; R. L. Doan, the director of research; W. C. Johnson, and later J. R. Coe, Jr., the head of the Chemistry Division; A. H. Snell, a leader of the Physics Division; H. C. Leverett, the head of the Technical Division; and K. Z. Morgan and J. E. Wirth, the heads of health physics and biology.  Metallurgical Project Director Arthur H. Compton moved to the site to watch over the operations. L. B. Borst, L. W. Mordheim, and E. 0. Wollan directed important segments of the work.


"The Clinton Laboratories, also known by the code name of "Site X," was the responsibility of the University of Chicago, with personnel from the du Pont Company playing the key role in the design, building, and operation of the air-cooled Graphite Reactor and the bismuth phosphate extraction plant which served as prototypes or pilot plants for the later Hanford operation. (After the war, as you all know, the Clinton Labora­tories became the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, operated first by the Monsanto Chemical Company, soon to be followed by the Union Carbide Com­pany, the present operator.) S. W. Pratt managed these pilot production activities from the standpoint of the du Pont Company, with the help of W. C. Kay and with L. K. Wyatt in charge of the reactor and F. B. Vaughan in charge of the chemical extraction plant. J. Gillette also played a role in the successful construction and operation of the plutonium plant.


"During the period August through November 1943, most of the chemists and engineers associated with the work on chemical processes moved from the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago to the Clinton Laboratories to prepare for the beginning of plant operations there. The chain-reacting pile that had been under construction since early in 1943 began to operate at low power level on November 4, 1943--twenty years ago. Its performance was excellent. Much of the success of the reactor was attributed to the group under Miles Leverett working on the engineering problems associated with the reactor's construction and early operation. This group, drawn from various operations of the du Pont organization included A. Rupp, J. E. Lane, C, J. Borkowski, S. E. Beall, and B. Briggs.


"Construction of the separations plant was nearing completion, the process semi-works had been transferred from Chicago and began to operate in September 1943 in a division under the direction of O. H. Greager. The group of process development chemists under J. B. Sutton transferred to the Clinton Laboratories in November. A large number of chemists transferred from the Metallurgical Laboratory and continued on chemical extraction process work under the direction of I. Perlman, with groups under the leadership of S. G. English, D. R. Miller, D. E. Koshland, Jr., V.R. Cooper, and B. A. Fries. R. W. Stoughton later headed a group working on uranium-233. Other groups with C. D. Coryell (on fission­product research, hot-laboratory operations, and process thermodynamics) and G. E. Boyd (on analytical chemistry and continued research on potential adsorption processes as possible alternate methods for the separation and decontamination of plutonium) were similarly transferred to Clinton, and these latter groups all worked in the Chemistry Division under We C. Johnson. J. A. Swartout and K. Kraus also were involved in these early chemical studies. H.S. Brown, after initially directing research on volatility processes for the separation of plutonium, served as Assistant Director of the Chemistry Division. I should also mention that it was during these days that C. K. Larson first came to Oak Ridge as an Assistant Superintendent of the chemical Research Division at the Y-12 Plant. A little later in 1945 Al Weinberg came on the scene as Section Chief in the Physics Division of the Clinton Laboratories.


"The first uranium from the Clinton pile entered the separations plant on December 20, 1943. By the end of January 1944, metal from the pile was being processed in the plant at the rate of one-third ton per day; by February 1, 1944, 190 milligrams of plutonium had been isolated; and by March 1, several grams had been produced. This and the following plutonium was of special importance to the Los Alamos Laboratory. The yield from the plant at the very start was about 50 percent, and by June 1944 it was between 80 and 90 percent[19]."

Hanford, Washington 1944-1945

The Task for Thompson in Hanford


The real action on the transplutonium front was out where a total of six tons of uranium was becoming a pound of day of Pu239. The load was split between two pair of giant, identical separation buildings. That action started with turning high-grade uranium into tin cans so that it could be more easily handled (and so that there would not be any dust since breathing radioactive stuff was pretty damn bad for you). After the uranium and been shaped into little cans and tined, it got shoved into one of the many geometrically arranged tubes in one of the Hanford reactors. This fresh new can of uranium was about to get "bred (they were called breeder reactors, after all)" The breeding was not that clean an operation. In a perfect world, the reactor would have been brought to a critical mass with one set of highly refined, quality control tested, cans of uranium. Once we knew what our reactor could do, and then we could feed in a few new cans of uranium for bombardment by all those sub atomic particles to create the Pu239 for the folks at Los Alamos. Alas, we did not have that kind of time. Oh no! We needed all the Pu239 we could make from the get-go. So all the cans of uranium got changed in every reactor once every 24-hours. New stuff in, even newer stuff out. The reactor was not just making one new element, plutonium; it was making lots of isotopes and a few new elements, bombarding hell out of everything that was being created and thus making stuff that had never been made before. At least it had never been made before in appreciably large enough quantities to study (and there was a big interest in studying it since it might kill someone or degrade the quality of the Pu239 product). More horrifying, since what was going in was not always the same, neither was what was coming out. What you could count on was Pu239 but you better keep your eye pealed for lots of fission products from the heavy metals and you could also find spectrographic evidence that there were some new elements being made with atomic numbers greater than plutonium's. It was all bad shit, at least from a safety conscious nonprofessional's point of view, all of it.


Returning to the process of synthesizing the plutonium, recall our new can of uranium being shoved in one end of a tube that was very hot because the other cans it contained were part of a critical mass of uranium; an atom smashing/combining critical mass. Fission and Fusion just like a coffeepot percolating. It would be another eleven years until Werner Von Braun's memorable 1955 national television performance on Disneyland that would make "fission" a household word. Anyone of any age who saw it will never forget when Walt Disney threw out that one Ping-Pong ball into a room full of mousetraps loaded with two ping pong balls each. The single ball hit the first mousetrap which sent two balls airborne then those two balls came down to hit two more mousetraps and then four balls went airborne, and then eight and then the next thing you knew the whole fucking room was thick with flying Ping-Pong balls. All that was missing was the mushroom shaped cloud. At Hanford, the real thing was taking place except it was atom parts, not ping-pong balls, that were making the action. The mini explosions that were taking place generated so much heat it took much of the Columbia River to cool it. There were also graphite rods to tame it. As our one new can of virgin uranium went into a tube, another can of well bred uranium (containing now smidges of plutonium and God knows what other horrible things) popped out the other end of the tube on the opposite side of the reactor. It was just like a fat man with a full belly eating a corn dog while sitting on a toilet: to get something more in, something else had to come out. In deference to the horrible things that were in that can that was excreted after its visit to the core of the reactor (or "pile," as the European's liked to say), it was dumped into a pond under thirty feet of water for a month to let all the unwholesome and unwanted short-lived radioactive isotopes get to the end of their most toxic few half-lives. Then the can was "safe enough" to be processed in a fully automated plant where no human being could even look at it directly. That is where the wheat of "fusion" was separated from the chaff of "fission" by Stan Thompson's bismuth phosphate process.


The identical buildings they built to house his bismuth phosphate chemical process were something to behold; ugly wonders of the world: each was once and half as wide as a football field and almost three football fields long! It was 100 feet high! A third of it was buried into the ground. All the walls and floors were four feet thick! Inside, below grade, were 22 bays into which the "spent" (fully irradiated with a smidgen of plutonium) uranium cans were deposited by a fully automated, no human in sight, process. At that point, the most caustic chemicals imaginable were used to dissolve the most toxic tin cans imaginable to capture the little tiny little bit Pu239 from a whole lot of uranium and scads of radioactive isotopes and even a few new elements. It was like trying to find the single healthy sprout in a can of filled with botulism and gray string beans. It was not like there was a lot of Pu239. A ton going into each building (from the ponds) only got you a half-pound of bomb grade plutonium coming out. Even then, it took several successive centrifuging and acid dissolutions before enough plutonium was present to be visible to the naked eye. Not that there were any naked eyes in the vicinity of those 22 bays, there weren't any naked eyes looking at what was going on without a periscope to bend the light to stay out of harms way from all that bad radioactivity. It turns out that the radioactivity was too mean to be bent by a simple mirror.


Thompson arrived at Hanford (with Alice and Ruthie in tow) on October 15th of 1944 according to Seaborg's memoirs. The first report that this paper can quote (because most have not yet been released by the Government) was dated 13 December 1944[20]. Thompson and his family stayed only until May 24th of 1945. The HEW Monthly Report produced the following month documents his departure and his accomplishments.  It appears that Thompson's position was that of Senior Supervisor for the Separation Engineer Division 200 Area Technical Department[21] [22] and was the highest-ranking technical position in the separations area of all on-loan Du Pont employees (i.e. civilian scientists). Thompson had over two-hundred competent scientists and technicians to help him test his hypotheses and collect data. Unlike Seaborg, Thompson had a strategy and knew how to direct his people to run the experiments that were required to do what he knew needed to be done to make Pu239 as safely and as efficiently as possible.


The cutting edge of nuclear chemistry was here at Hanford because it was perceived as a matter of life and death for the success of the United States war effort; there was an unlimited budget and a staff of hundreds around the clock. The cutting edge of nuclear chemistry was also thousands of miles away from either the body or abilities of Glenn Seaborg. This cutting edge was short lived and at its sharpest from November of 1944 until the end of May, 1945. During that period, just as it should have been, that acute instrument of science in service of destruction was being wielded by Stanley G.  Thompson, the man who had conceived and scaled up the chemical processes that were working successfully in these two giant buildings. Thompson could conduct as much research in a day with the resources at his command as what it took a year (or more) to do in Berkeley before the war (and would again after the War). Thompson's giant advances leading to, and culminating in the events at Hanford, "conditioned by the war[23]," made possible the subsequent separation and identification of every remaining element of the actinide series beyond plutonium. The University of California's association with the actinides (the transplutonium elements) had mostly to do with UC's association with Stanley G. Thompson. It was UC's great fortune that Thompson elected to maintain his relationship with Seaborg after his success at Hanford and to return to Berkeley via Chicago. In the years that would follow, Seaborg would have the opportunity to serve ten presidents as their expert in atomic energy for having been nothing more than the duplicitous recruiter of his high school friend..




Back in Seaborg's Met Lab Section C-1


Nothing could be sillier than Seaborg proposing that he and his non-Hanford team were on the forefront of anything. Hanford was where the breakthroughs were coming in the synthesis and identification of the fission products of the heavy metals and new transplutonium elements. To happen in Chicago required ancient technology: a medical doctor in Berkeley running the cyclotron to irradiate a flyspeck of Clinton Semi-Works plutonium. Even then, the best Seaborg and Hamilton could do was to produce evidence of elements beyond plutonium. They sure as hell could not tell you what it was without Stan Thompson. It was insulting, intellectually dishonest, and even unpatriotic that Seaborg published an article in Science[24] (no less) on the "production" of elements 95 and 96 in 1945 as if he was the expert when the real expert was out risking his life at Hanford where actinide separations were an every day fact of life.


"Those of still in the chemistry group in 1944 continued our research in "New Chem" with a program that included a search for transplutonium elements. These efforts did not bring any success until we formulated a new theory postulating the existence of a group of "actinide" elements in the heavy element region with properties similar to the lanthanide rare-earth series in the traditional periodic table. Experiments during the summer and fall of 1944 and extending into the beginning of 1945, using both cyclotron and reactor irradiated plutonium, led to the detection of element 96, which we later called "curium" and of element 95, which we named "americium." During the remainder of the war, in addition to supporting activities at Hanford and Los Alamos, we investigated the processes which made possible the isolation of these new elements in pure form, americium in the fall of 1945, and curium in 1947. As I look back on these events. I realize that some of the most exciting moments of my scientific career occurred in the flimsy laboratories of the Met Lab[25]."




"After the completion, at the wartime Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, of the most essential part of the investigations concerned with the chemical processes involved in the production and separation of plutonium, attention turned to the problem of synthesizing and identifying the next heavier transuranium elements. As my collaborators in this endeavor, there were A. Ghiorso, R. A. James, and L. 0. Morgan.


There followed a period during which the attempts to synthesize and identify elements 95 and 96 bore no fruit. The unsuccessful experiments were based on the premise that these elements should be much like plutonium, in that it should be possible to oxidize them to a higher oxidation state and utilize this oxidation in the chemical isolation procedures. It was not until the middle of the summer of 1944, upon the first recognition that these elements were part of an "actinide" transition series (i.e., were chemically very similar to the element actinium and to the long known rare earth elements), that any advance was made; and then progress came quickly.  Incidentally, this element-by-element analogy in chemical properties between the actinide and lanthanide (rare earth) elements has been the key to the chemical identification - and, hence discovery of the subsequent transuranium elements[26]."


Americium and Curium


"As soon as it was recognized that these elements could be oxidized only with extreme difficulty, if at all, the identification of An isotope then thought to be element 95 or 96 followed immediately. Thus, the isotope of element 96-- curium, with an atomic mass of 242-- vas produced in the summer of 1944 as a result of the bombardment of plutonium-239 with 32-Mey helium ions in the cyclotron at Berkeley.


"The identification of element 95, americium, followed, during late 1944 and early 1945, As a result of the bombardment of plutonium-239 with neutrons in a nuclear reactor, the Oak Ridge Graphite Reactor.


"Some comments should be made, here, concerning the rare earth-like properties of these two elements. Other hypotheses that they should greatly resemble the rare earth elements in their chemical properties proved to be so very true that, for a time, it appeared to be unfortunate. The better part of a year was spent in trying without success to separate chemically the two elements from each other and from the rare earth ele­ments; and although we felt entirely confident, on the basis of their radioactive properties and the methods of production, that isotopes of elements 95 and 96 had been produced, the chemical proof was still unde­monstrated.  The elements remained unnamed during this period of futile attempts at separation (although one of our group referred to them as "pandemonium" and "delirium," in recognition of our difficulties). The key to their final separation, and the technique which made feasible the separation and identification of these and subsequent transuranium elements, was the so-called ion exchange technique. The elements were named americium, after the Americas, and curium, in honor of Pierre and Marie Curie, by analogy to the naming of their rare earth counterparts (i.e., homologues) -europium (After Europe) and gadolinium (after the Finnish chemist Gadolin)[27]."


"We succeeded because I dared to challenge the conventional wisdom of the day. When nuclear researchers say 'discover,' they are generally using nontechnical shorthand for 'synthesize and identify.' After all, you can't discover something that doesn't exist in nature, any more than Michelangelo discovered his 'David' inside a block of marble. None of these elements existed before we synthesized them.


"When you synthesize a new element, it's too small to see and too small to weigh. There may be 100 atoms of the new element mixed with a billion extraneous atoms. The challenge is to separate out those 100 atoms in order to identify the new element. Only if you can predict its properties can you separate it out, can you find the proper magnet that will pull the needle from the haystack. The insight that made my career was that the accepted theory about these yet-to-be-discovered elements was wrong.[28]"


If ever there was a load, these three quotes in yellow highlight from Seaborg epitomize it. The facts are rather different. Seaborg's darling, the "actinide series theory," was nothing but empty words. Seaborg was accumulating egg on his face. He had gone into literary mode in the prestigious journal Science announcing the "production" of elements 95 and 96. As the scientific community held their breath for the chemical and nuclear details, he was floundering because the cyclotron in Berkeley had been run by a non-physicist who had contaminated part of the sample with aluminum. Seaborg's lab analyses were done by a pair of master degree students. Every bit of synthesis and identification had been sloppy, un-replicable science. The fact of the matter was that precious new theory or no, Seaborg was incapable of directing an effort to separate americium from curium from the other rare earth elements, much less from one another to analyze them separately. Seaborg also had no ability to direct research to develop empirical evidence that his "new" theory was accurate. It wasn't even his theory, it was first proposed by McMillan in 1940[29]. When Thompson returned in June of 1945, he was well aware of the problems involved in identifying americium since two months before, a "special charge" was processed through the Hanford reactor and then required considerable chemical attention and monitoring to separate it from the rest of the product the reactor had produced[30]. The charge was no surprise, Thompson had helped plan it while he was still in Chicago and it was the subject of a memo to him by Seaborg's right hand science writer (and Associate Section Chief), J. E. Willard[31]. The following month he confirmed the 95241 isotope (later americium) and its presence in the final product solutions. He also found that the 'contribution of 95241 to the gross alpha emissions of appears to be significantly low so that it does not contribute significantly to the specific activity of the product' [Pu239]. Thompson took the two students who were in trouble, Morgan and James, and developed a tracer chemistry[32] for americium and curium that the pair could use to reliably (replicable) produce results for the research they had tried to do for Seaborg in Thompson's absence. Thompson developed the experimental design and collected empirical laboratory evidence to support the actinide series theory at the same time. The papers on americium[33] and curium[34]--and Thompson's paper that made them possible--would not be published until 1949. When they were published, they were published in different sections of the book Seaborg edited so that Thompson's work appeared no more significant than just another one of Seaborg's graduate students. Once again, Seaborg's ass was kept out of the sling by his old pal Stan Thompson. Once again, Seaborg avoided a public humiliation through Thompson's good deeds.  Better still, when Seaborg plagiarized Thompson with Thompson's permission, Seaborg scored a scientific victory for himself.

Berkelium and Californium


In the words of Thompson at the 25 Anniversary of Berkelium:


"But, as Glenn said, a lot of work went into the discovery of these elements. I think the beginnings took place at the Metal­lurgical Laboratory in Chicago in 1945. As you may re­member, the war was over in August and even by that time, we had started to do experiments in preparation for the attempt to produce berkelium. In fact, the first experi­ments were done near Christmas-time 1945.


"Some other things we managed to accomplish at the 'Met Lab' in Chicago were to arrange to get samples of americium and plutonium in the Hanford reactor for neu­tron irradiation to make isotopes that were useful later in experiments we did at Berkeley. Of course, we also had a lot of experience in separating actinides from other ele­ments and fission products, etc., as a result of our work on the Hanford separations process. We actually did the first ion exchange separations at Chicago-although they were rather crude compared with separations developed later. We also had some notions about how to handle radioactiv­ity, which we later put into effect at Berkeley."


The point here is so clear and so simple it has been overlooked by many. At the risk of belaboring it here: The plant at Hanford that was built for Thompson's bismuth phosphate process was called the separation plant. The key to synthetic elements is separation; just like Seaborg claimed[35]. The transuranium elements were never "discovered." Their "discovery" did not rely on their synthesis but rather on their separation from everything else, including each other. It had nothing to do with Seaborg's idiotic dry lab theories; it had everything to do with Stan Thompson's genius for nuclear chemistry and physics. Stan Thompson was this country and the world's greatest expert on separating radioactive isotopes within the actinide series from other radioactive isotopes from all the heavy metal fission products. He had to be the master of that expertise because Pu239 was an actinide isotope and Pu239 was what Stan Thompson promised he would deliver to the Army Generals. It is as simple as that. 


Naturally Thompson was responsible for the Berkeley's team successes after the war, especially americium and curium. The two 800' long X 75' wide X 100' high concrete buildings with 4' thick walls were built for Stan Thompson's separation process and they performed better than promised. That is what anyone would call, "world class" solid credibility in the actinides. Who else could have done it? Seaborg never even had wet hands; all he did was go to meetings and write up other people's science as if it was his own. Seaborg's nose was too busy going up influential people's asses every day to even sniff around his own chem lab. Seaborg was not capable of taking a shit without Thompson for fear he would get stuck and not know what to do next. Seaborg never even saw the buildings that Government built for Stan Thompson because no one thought he was worth showing them to.


It was Stan Thompson who had been the guy the nation was depending on to purify  the plutonium made in the reactors at Hanford; not Glenn Seaborg. Is it a wonder that Thompson was responsible for "delivering" the remaining members of actinide series in Berkeley after the War? Hell no! What is a wonder is how his boyhood friend, Glen Seaborg, was capable of carrying out an apostasy of Shakespearean proportions and stealing Thompson's Nobel Prize when Seaborg was so utterly incompetent at doing anything but science writing.


What Seaborg did to Thompson was beyond simple plagiarism. Seaborg stole the intellectual attainments of a true patriot who had risked his life and the lives of his wife and infant daughter in service to his country. Thompson not only produced the impossible he promised he would produce, he produced it on time and with greater safety than anyone could have hoped to expect. He even produced it without any advanced degrees. He was a regular guy (not counting being an extraordinary genius) and a real hero. When the war was won, he had no stomach for earning his living in nuclear weaponry. Like Agricola, he followed his heart home when the outcome was assured. He might have made a personal fortune had he stayed in the atomic bomb business a few more years. Du Pont knew what he was worth. He could have written his own ticket with General Electric; even Westinghouse. Thompson knew there would be no fortunes made applying his knowledge and skills to deliver the rest of the elements in the actinide series but he returned to the university to pursue pure science anyway.


Despite their longstanding relationship, the personal and patriotic warrant due Stan Thompson, and the abundance of scientific glory, which even when fairly apportioned, would have been plentiful for everyone involved in the Met Lab C-1 section, Glenn T. Seaborg wanted it all; It was more than just about winning the Nobel Prize; it was personal.  A narcissist's song is not necessarily a pretty one to hear.

Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley--1946-1950

Graduate School and the Dissertation


With the war over, so was the period of academic egalitarianism that had accompanied it. It meant that if Thompson wanted to devote his life to pure science at a university, despite his demonstrated competence, he would need a Ph.D. For those who have never been socialized into having an advanced degree, this situation sounds peculiar. "You mean to tell me that Thompson had to switch roles so that instead of directing his colleague's research he now had to take direction from them?" Oh yes. It was even worse than that. The academic world is the last holdout of the master-apprentice system where the master retains absolute power. It can be little better than being a slave; it is at least like being an indentured servant. In the end, until every member of the candidate's doctoral committee sign his or her dissertation, the candidates career can be dropped in the shitter for failing to get a haircut. It is a medieval, primitive system, to say the least. If you are the holder of an advanced degree it does not make you any smarter about anything except about getting advanced degrees and how to interpret the meanings within meanings of deviations from the normal process. There is a saying in academia that the political infighting is the dirtiest there because there are so many smart people and so little power to fight over. The first battle is to obtain the advanced degree you have earned.


Thompson's doctoral committee was composed of Edwin McMillan, Wendell Latimer, and Glenn Seaborg. Latimer was the chair of the department (and famous enough in his own right that one-day a chemistry building would be named after him). McMillan was perhaps the brightest and most creative scientific mind ever to walk the Berkeley campus. Like Thompson, he had put his career and personal ambitions aside in the war effort when he gave his transuranium lab to Seaborg and went to MIT to work on RADAR (at the time, a more pressing and urgent matter in winning the war than the atomic bomb). Seaborg was Seaborg: a talented administrator and writer and an inveterate narcissist. 


Therefore, when Stan Thompson returned to Berkeley, he had a very full plate laid out before him. He had to complete two years worth of demanding course work (about sixty semester units) in chemistry and physics, pass a foreign language exam, and complete his doctoral dissertation. Naturally, to get paid so he could support himself and his growing family, he had to continue his role as a research associate of the new "Rad Lab" by developing the "hot lab" facility.


On top of these demands were the demands of his family. Stan's wife Alice had been a dutiful trooper since the war began. She too, was a patriot, knowingly risking her life in the trip to Hanford. Their daughter Ruthie was three years old and scarcely knew her father. Stan got Alice pregnant almost as soon as they returned to California and their second daughter, Joyce, was born four days after Glenn Seaborg's birthday the following April (1947). Until Thompson's dissertation was completed just before Christmas Vacation in 1948, he did not have a moment to spare. It made him very vulnerable to manipulation from someone he trusted and thought he could depend on.


Having been socialized into the system of advanced degrees, it is impossible not to comment on some peculiarities that jump out from Thompson's dissertation: The first of these is the fact that the dissertation purports to have been searching for elements 97 and 98 (ultimately berkelium and californium) but failing to achieve that reports results related to americium and curium. This is an odd way indeed for Thompson to introduce his original contribution to the scientific literature! 


More likely, it speaks of a deal that was struck in which Thompson's research associate duties were linked to his dissertation proposal which was to lead the team to identify elements 97 and 98 (berkelium and californium). To do that required understanding, and even irradiating americium. It certainly meant separating americium from curium since curium and berkelium have exactly the same atomic weight. Had the work been done by Seaborg on americium and curium that needed to be done to claim them as "his elements" all would have been well. The problem, as stated in the last chapter, was that the work done on americium and curium had been so sloppy it was not replicable (the results could not be repeated consistently) and so it had to be redone with new tools and procedures. Thompson provided those tools and procedures but wasn't given credit for his role in americium and curium because credit had already been claimed by other lab members (Seaborg, James, Morgan and Ghiorso) and it would have been embarrassing for them to admit they had to be rescued from their own malfeasance (which crediting Thompson for his contribution would indicate). In his own doctoral dissertation where he presents the results of these tools and separations of americium and curium from other rare earth metals and one another, the text points out it was only on his way to elements 97 and 98 that he made findings related to elements 95 (americium) and 96 (curium).  Only Glenn Seaborg, as Thompson's committee chair, could have been responsible for inserting such a self-serving, ridiculous and unnecessary qualification. Thompson was also not allowed to state explicitly, although it should be obvious even to a social scientist, that the tools he created "on the way to elements 97 and 98" made legitimate reports of elements 95 and 96 possible. Why even mention 97 and 98? Who cares? When Thompson did what he did in the separation and identification of elements 95 and 96, that work stands on its own and qualified him for authorship on the announcements of americium and curium. The answer is Glenn Seaborg and Al Ghiorso (more than Morgan and James) cared because they had already staked out elements 95 and 96 as their own.


Similarly, in separating and discovering isotopes that previous investigators of americium and curium had overlooked, Thompson's discoveries are qualified by the same odd disclaimer that he was only on the path to "97 and 98". At least he was allowed to mention who else had missed them.


Another odd situation exists on the third page of his dissertation, where Thompson introduced the research he led with Morgan, James and Perlman which resulted in the creation of tracers for americium and curium and empirical validation of the so called actinide theory. The sentence begins by crediting "Seaborg and co-workers" when in fact, Seaborg was not even a fifth author on the paper, and the first author was Thompson. It is so much Seaborg that it is surprising it did not appear directly in his own handwriting.


There is also evidence of what appears to be a rift in the transuranium team. At least, there were a lot of unpublished data. Burris Cunningham and L.B. Werner were the first to isolate pure plutonium using ultra microchemical techniques in Chicago; Cunningham had apparently done the same for americium at Berkeley and in so doing calculated the half life of Am241 to be slightly over five hundred years. Thompson, whose calculations were slightly lower, meticulously cites Cunningham's research and attempts to reconcile it with his own. Cunningham's results were unpublished and appear in some kind of collaboration with similarly unpublished data by R.A. James (second author on both the americium and curium papers) and Ken Street. Whatever the rift, it was obviously Thompson's job to clean it up and patch it.


The title of Thompson's dissertation, "Nuclear and Chemical Properties of Americium and Curium," is most intriguing of all. Seaborg produced a paper for The Plutonium Project Record, 14B as first-author with Wahl entitled "The Chemical Properties of Elements 94 and 93" and another for the same book as first-author with Kennedy and Wahl entitled "Nuclear Properties of 94238 and 93238." Yet Seaborg did not include Thompson's dissertation in the Plutonium Project Record although the title had a remarkable similarity to his own works which he used to lobby his expertise on the actinide series. We wonder if it was Thompson or McMillan (or even Latimer) who insisted on Thompson's title as a notice to Seaborg that he was fooling no one. No one, that is, but the members of the Swedish Academy of the Sciences.


After the intense two and half years he had just been through, it is hard to blame Thompson for any editorial changes he let Seaborg make in his dissertation so it could be complete by Christmas of 1948.


Seaborg's Literary Tergiversation


If ever a man had an single opportunity to manage his image at the expense of others, it was the opportunity given by McGraw Hill to Glenn Seaborg in the 1733 pages (in two volumes) he was given to present the Plutonium Project Record of his C-1 Section[36]. As he saw it take shape, it was perfect for what Seaborg wanted to do. Not only did he get credit for editing the project; he could arrange the selection and presentation of the research papers to create whatever impression he so desired in the readers. The readers he had in mind were the members of the Swedish Academy of the Sciences in Stockholm. In just two bound volumes, Seaborg would have the opportunity to be able to make his case for being awarded the Nobel Prize. Why screw around with refereed journal articles? In the Plutonium Project Record, 14B, Seaborg would be the first author, the editor, and the referee! Best of all, 90% of Seaborg's publications that were relevant toward the Nobel Prize would be contained in so handy a reference that was so easy to locate and use.


Interestingly enough, we find that the name Stanley G. Thompson only occurs once as a proposed author despite the 1733 pages that were available. Is that any way to treat a man whose accomplishments were akin to the Curie's? Doesn't it seem odd that the man whose genius was responsible for those two (and third under construction) behemoth concrete separation buildings at Hanford that actually performed better than he promised wouldn't even get a smidgen of credit for his accomplishments? Even if every relevant paper of Thompson's was classified for security purposes, Thompson should have been an editor, if for no other reason than to acknowledge the significance of his contributions and to credit his role in the Plutonium Project. Seaborg knew Thompson had more than earned the honor for his standing in the field (not to mention for his extraordinary loyalty to Seaborg). Instead, Seaborg used two of his favorite chemist-turned-sycophants from the Met Lab as co-editors. They did his bidding and excluded Thompson while exalting Seaborg. .


W.M. Manning and J.J. Katz were experienced confederates of Glenn Seaborg. They were each promoted by Seaborg at the Met Lab in Chicago for their public relations science writing ability. Manning, in particular, was first to keep the downward pressure on Thompson's visibility in Chicago. Katz followed. Report writing was a problem at the Met Lab because Seaborg's role was superfluous given Thompson's mastery of task at hand and true responsibilities in managing the development of the separation and concentration processes. All Seaborg did was waste precious Plutonium on pet projects more closely related to what he already knew. The problem was they were not necessarily related to the War effort. His science writers; Franck, Willard, Manning and Katz; took pains to play up Seaborg's useless research and downplay the role of Thompson--one of their favored devices was to use alphabetical order on authorship to put Thompson at the end of the line in his own lab. They also used misleading nomenclature in an attempt to trivialize Thompson's contributions and inflate Seaborg's projects. They even obscured organizational charts to make Thompson appear less crucial than he really was. Examples of their work are shown in Seaborg's account of the activities in the C-1 section during the war.  All these men should have prayed each night that St. Peter is not interested in punishing untalented chemists with even less principal than ability. Regardless of St. Peter, Seaborg, Manning and Katz were well drilled in how to be spin doctors and were successful in their bid to hide Stan Thompson from the attention of the Swedish Academy of the Sciences in the Plutonium Project Report, 14B. If there is karma, it was not operational in nuclear chemistry between 1942 and 1951.


After such systematic neglect of Thompson's accomplishments by his old friend, boss, and now major professor, Thompson's first authorship in the berkelium and californium papers would have received little attention from the Swedish Academy of the Sciences. The members would have reasoned that had Thompson been an important force in the nuclear chemistry of the actinides, his contributions should have dominated the Plutonium Project Record, 14B. How would they have known was that Thompson had been meticulously sanitized out of the Plutonium Project Record, 14B by his friend from the 9ths grade, Glenn T. Seaborg.


Again, we have a situation where Seaborg was entirely conscious of what he was doing. His wife had worked for a Nobel Laureate. They knew the ropes of how the prize was decided. The knew the rewards of being a recipient of the prize. Seaborg intentionally omitted Thompson from these collected papers. He even placed Thompson's tracer study with the co-authors of the americium and curium papers in a different section than the papers announcing the new elements.


Thompson was not in a position to take care of his academic reputation because he was still without an advanced degree and because he was too busy taking classes, running his lab and trying to be a husband to his wife and a father to his two young daughters. What is most personally despicable about Seaborg is that during this time when Thompson was without a second for himself, and extremely vulnerable and dependent on Seaborg, Seaborg stabbed him in the back. Given his talent for "apostasy with cause for absolution," it would not even be surprising if Seaborg asked Thompson to be a co-editor of the McGraw-Hill book. Seaborg would have known that by holding out the expectation Thompson would have to do the work of a co-editor, Seaborg could offer it and be certain that Thompson would have had to turn it down. Stan Thompson could not possibly do one more thing. Seaborg's treatment of Thompson in the preparation of the Plutonium Project Record reveals Seaborg for exactly what who he was: a talented administrator, a prolific science writer, and an unscrupulous plagiarist.


Above all, Glenn T. Seaborg was a raving narcissist: he had neither respect for other people nor their ideas. Accordingly, Seaborg prepared his intellectually dishonest 1733 page brief for the Swedish Academy of the Sciences and delivered it Stockholm personally after it had been published in New York by a repeatable academic publishing firm.


Berkelium and Californium 1949-1950


"The most important prerequisite to the process for making the transcurium elements (i.e., the still-heavier elements beyond curium) was that sufficiently large amounts of americium and curium had to be manufactured to serve as starting materials. Because of the intense radioactivity of these starting substances, even in milligram or submilligram amounts, it was necessary to develop extremely efficient chemical separation methods in order to obtain the enormous separation factors needed for the isolation of the new elements from the starting material, so that it would be possible to detect the very small amounts of radioactivity due to the new transcurium elements. The dangerous radioactivity of the source material made it necessary to develop complicated methods for remote control operation to keep the health hazards at a minimum.


"These production, separation, and protection problems were solved; and successful experiments were performed at the end of 1949 and the beginning of 1950. Americium for target material was prepared in milligram amounts by intense neutron bombardment of plutonium over a long period of time and curium target materials were prepared in microgram amounts as the result of the intense neutron bombardment of some of this americium. Both of these neutron bombardments took place in high-power reactors having large neutron fluxes.


"Element 97, berkelium, was discovered by S. G. Thompson, A. Ghiorso, and myself, in December 1949, as a result of the bombardment of milligram amounts of americium-241 with 35-Mev helium ions accelerated in the 60-inch cyclotron of the University of California at Berkeley. The first isotope produced has the mass number 243 and decays with a half-life of 4.5 hours.


"Element 98, californium, was first produced and similarly identified by Thompson, Ghiorso, K. Street, and myself, in February 1950, at the University of California at Berkeley. The first isotope produced is now assigned the mass number 245 and decays with a half-life of 44 minutes. This isotope was produced by the bombardment of microgram amounts of curium-242 with 35-Mev helium ions accelerated in the 60-inch cyclotron. It is interesting to note that this identification of element 98 was accom­plished with a total of only some 5000 atoms; someone remarked, at the time that this number was substantially smaller than the number of students attending the university[37]."


It was Thompson, Thompson, and Thompson that was responsible for berkelium and californium. As far as the Nobel Prize went, it really did not matter. They were credited to Seaborg as if Thompson were a lab tech. It was too late. Thompson went on to lead the team that identified at least the next three actinide elements in the series.

A Final Word

Impressions of Stanley G. Thompson


Speaking editorially, it was hard not to grow to like and respect Stan Thompson. What was there to dislike? He was smart, decent and treated people well, even people like Seaborg. The more I learned, the more sympathetic I became to him. Not sympathetic in the sense he was a victim that required pity but sympathetic in the sense of resonating to meaning of his life. He did not appear to be interested in fame and self-importance. He loved his work. He treated his graduate students well and they got their degrees in a timely fashion. That tells a lot about a man in academia. He spread the credit for his achievements around. Another behavior that reflects something of the insides of a man. He worked too long and too hard but most of those habits developed in the war and were reinforced by his graduate school experience. I was sorry not to see more of the kid who drove the Phaeton to UCLA later in Thompson's life. When I read his description of being in the lab with Burris Cunningham for 36 straight hours, I was amused by the story but found myself feeling badly for the time he missed with his family. He is reputed to have been a very good father.


From what I understand of his background, Thompson was the "love child" of a young, WASP, farm girl and Jewish college boy who was just traveling through. Because his mother was young enough to be his sister, he was adopted by his aunt and her husband.  The aunt's husband was a problem. Young Stan had no full brothers or sisters and spent much of his childhood, including his high school years, with his maternal grandmother. It appears Thompson knew what it was like to be disappointed by those he depended on and vowed not to do that to others. He seems to have been very successful in meeting that goal. He was an All-American at being a team player.


Had Stan Thompson been awarded the Nobel Prize that he earned with Edwin McMillan, it is unlikely he would have used it with the grandiosity and narcissism that characterized the second half of Seaborg's life. Thompson and McMillan seemed to have understood science and responsibility more similarly. There is no doubt in my mind that McMillan would have appeared happier in the publicity photos had he shared the Prize with Thompson instead of Seaborg. I am sure winning the Nobel Prize made McMillan's life easier in the lab, if for no other reason than it neutralized the unbearable post-War continence of Seaborg.


I was particularly struck by the last sentence of UCLA English Professor Kenneth Lincoln's eulogy quoted by Seaborg in the "A Chemist's Chemist:"


" . . .He was primarily a man of good will, with many friends from all walks of life."


At least in my opinion, many worse things can be said of man and not that many things that are better. I suspect Stan Thompson would not have been willing to give up living a life that was characterized by Professor Lincoln's description for just the ambitious phrase, "he won half the Nobel Prize in 1951." My hypothesis is that his egalitarian attitude and his resolve to try to act in good faith accounted for both why he had many friends from all walks of life and why he did not get all the personal recognition he had earned in his scientific career. It was not a matter of being a martyr; it was a matter of trade-offs and personal identity. What is not to like, admire and respect about a man like that?   


Impressions of Glenn T. Seaborg


Speaking of some of the worse things that can be said about a man leads us to Glenn Seaborg. He was summed up to me with amazing accuracy by a shy, pretty, diminutive, red-haired girl some 33 years ago. She claimed to know Seaborg. In fact, she said that she remembered being picked up as a very young child by Seaborg when he was a guest in her family's home (she found the features on his face so frightening she screamed out in terror until her mother rescued her).


Figure 1--A Face and Continence to Scare a Little Girl ?


The topic of Seaborg came up as we were parked one evening near the Plant Materials Science Foundation Block Vineyard where she was teaching me a pagan foot ritual called boko-maru. When we finished allowing our feet to align our souls in perfect spiritual union, I shared with her how impressed I was that she actually knew Seaborg personally. Her normally sad, sleepy dark hazel eyes flashed with fire. “Don’t be, . . .” she said earnestly, “he’s an asshole.”


At this point, many years later, the Webmaster regrets to say  that the best he can find to say of Glenn Seaborg is that he was a real asshole.


[1] Title pages, prefaces and selections from three of Seaborg's journals are included in Part III: Appendices of this publication.

[2] from

[3] I know, I drove a Model "A" Phaeton (well, a Model "A" sedan that someone had cut the top from) from Los Angeles to New York in the summer of 1967.

[4] Ibid, p. 408, 1978

[5] from

[6] "Following a start by McMillan in a search for the next transuranium element, No. 94, I received his permission to carry on this work when he was called away to perform important war research in the eastern part of the United States," from

[7] Op. Cit., Pp. 2-3, 1963

[8] from

[9] Kennedy, J.W. Seaborg, G.T. Segre, E. & Wahl A.C.; Properties of 94(239). Phys. Rev. 70:555, 1946.

[10] from

[11] Seaborg, G.T.; Journal of Glenn T. Seaborg July 1, 1939-April 17, 1942.  Pub-746, Vol. III:667, Berkeley: LBL, (DOE contract DE-AC03-76SF00098),  1994 (reprinted)

[12] Seaborg, G.T.; Journal of Glenn T. Seaborg July 1, 1939-April 17, 1942.  Pub-746, Vol. III:721, Berkeley: LBL, (DOE contract DE-AC03-76SF00098),  1994 (reprinted)

[13] Op. Cit. P. 3, 1963

[14] Op. Cit., p. 4, 1963

[15] from

[16] Op. cit., p. 408, 1978

[17] Op. cit., p. 409, 1978

[18] Seaborg, G.T.; HREX Document 0712412, p.1080981 from

[19] Op. Cit., Pp. 4-5, 1963

[20] Thompson, S.G.; Stability of Aluminate Solutions. CN-2879, RL-1-27911, 12/13/1944, Opennet, 08/06/1997. The date on the reports tended to run a few weeks behind their completion.  Also, the task of reviewing historical documents was further complicated by the fact that only reports that pertain to health issues have been declassified and released by the Government on the date of this draft 08-08-1999.

[21] Dreher, J.L. Acken, M.F. & Thompson, S.G. The evolution of iodine during metal dissolution. Memorandum Report Se-PC-#74, DOE Opennet: HW-3-3003:1082724-1082734, August 2, 1945

[22] J. Leonard Dreher, the subordinate of Thompson's who authored this paper, was one of Stan Thompson's classmates at UCLA and shown standing next to him in the UCLA Gang photo from July, 1944

[23] As so eloquently stated by the Swedish Academy of Science in awarding Seaborg his Nobel Prize in 1951

[24] Seaborg, G.T. & Hamilton, J.G.; The production of elements 95 and 96. Science, 102:556, 1945.

[25] HREX Document 0712412, p. 1080981 from

[26] Op. Cit, p.7, 1963

[27] Op. Cit, Pp.7-8, 1963

[28] Seaborg, G.T.; Meet Glenn Seaborg from

[29] Seaborg, G.T.; Journal of Glenn T. Seaborg July 1, 1939-April 17, 1942.  Pub-746, Berkeley: LBL, (DOE contract DE-AC03-76SF00098), , 1994 (reprinted)

[30] Wo, S.; HEW Monthly Report 04/1945. HW-7-1649-DEL, 05/14/1995

[31] Seaborg, G.T.  History of Met Lab Section C-I, May 1943 to April 1944. Pub-112, Vol. II:559, Berkeley: LBL (DOE Contract W-7405-ENG-48), 1978.

[32] Thompson, S.G., James, R.A., Morgan, L.O. & Perlman, I.; The tracer chemistry of americium and curium in aqueous solutions. No. 19.1 In G.T. Seaborg, J.J. Katz and W. Manning's (Eds.) Nuclear Energy Series, Manhattan Project Technical Section, Division IV--Plutonium Project Record, 14B, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949

[33] Seaborg, G.T., James, R.A., & Morgan, L.O.; The new element americium. No. 22.1 In G.T. Seaborg, J.J. Katz and W. Manning's (Eds.) Nuclear Energy Series, Manhattan Project Technical Section, Division IV--Plutonium Project Record, 14B, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949

[34] Seaborg, G.T., James, R.A., & Ghiorso, A.; The new element curium. No. 22.2 In G.T. Seaborg, J.J. Katz and W. Manning's (Eds.) Nuclear Energy Series, Manhattan Project Technical Section, Division IV--Plutonium Project Record, 14B, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949

[35] Seaborg, G.T.; Meet Glenn Seaborg from


[36] G.T. Seaborg, J.J. Katz and W. Manning's (Eds.) Nuclear Energy Series, Manhattan Project Technical Section, Division IV--Plutonium Project Record, 14B, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949

[37] Op. Cit., Pp. 7-8, 1963