The Webmaster Takes Off His Gloves
Seaborg and Thompson:
A non-Conciliatory View
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).
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
for two years just to remain in the rarified Berkeley atmosphere.
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"
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
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.
had obviously paid off a big benefit to Glenn T. Seaborg.
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.
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
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.
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
and the other was a with American Cyanamid
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.
"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."
"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."
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
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.” 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,
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
"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
"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."
Stan, what do you think? Which do we go with?"
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."
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.
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.
general likes lanthanum fluoride because it makes for such an efficient
recovery," whines Glenn.
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."
can you be so sure of bismuth phosphate, Stan?"
things come easy too me, I guess," Stan said in a friendly way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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
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,"
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..
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
(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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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)."
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
the words of Thompson at the 25 Anniversary of Berkelium:
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Laboratory in Berkeley--1946-1950
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.
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.
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
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, Coco, 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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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.
Despite the time he spent on his work, very close friends of the family say he
was a very good father and loved by his children.
Thompson beginnings were
humble. On March 1912, he was born to a 16 year old school girl, Bessie
Willmetta Sims, in the Florence Crittenden Home in Los Angeles. She named
him Oscar Malcomb Doe. His mother gave him to her sister and her husband to
raise as their son. Lucy May (Sims) and Harry Stuart Thompson renamed the baby
Stanley Gerald Thompson. Harry turned out to be a drinker and a problem to his
wife and son. Young Stan had no full brothers or
sisters and spent much of his childhood, including his high school years, with
his maternal grandmother, Mantra Louisa (Murray) Sims. 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
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?
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 in a story by a shy, pretty girl I knew in
college. 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 and she found him so
frightening she screamed out in terror until her mother rescued her.
Obviously, it is hard to
fool a child.
pages, prefaces and selections from three of Seaborg's journals are included
in Part III: Appendices of this
 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.
 Ibid, p. 408, 1978
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 http://seaborg.nmu.edu/seaborg/GTSbio.html
 Op. Cit., Pp. 2-3, 1963
J.W. Seaborg, G.T. Segre, E. & Wahl A.C.; Properties of 94(239). Phys.
Rev. 70:555, 1946.
 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)
 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)
 Op. Cit. P. 3, 1963
 Op. Cit., p. 4, 1963
p. 408, 1978
Op. cit., p. 409, 1978
G.T.; HREX Document 0712412, p.1080981 from http://search.dis.anl.gov/plweb-cgi/mhrexpage.pl?0712412+3+12+_free_user_+1%2bminute+60+0+unix+3388+table+mhrex-user+query+doe%3adod%3a+Stanley%20G.Thompson
 Op. Cit., Pp. 4-5, 1963
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.
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
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
 As so eloquently stated by the Swedish Academy of Science in awarding Seaborg his Nobel Prize in 1951
G.T. & Hamilton, J.G.; The production of elements 95 and 96. Science, 102:556,
 HREX Document 0712412, p. 1080981 from http://search.dis.anl.gov/plweb-cgi/mhrexpage.pl?0712412+3+12+_free_user_+1%2bminute+60+0+unix+3388+table+mhrex-user+query+doe%3adod%3a+Stanley%20G.Thompson
 Op. Cit, p.7, 1963
 Op. Cit, Pp.7-8, 1963
G.T.; Journal of Glenn T. Seaborg July 1, 1939-April 17, 1942. Pub-746, Berkeley: LBL, (DOE contract DE-AC03-76SF00098), ,
S.; HEW Monthly Report 04/1945. HW-7-1649-DEL, 05/14/1995
 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.
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:
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
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
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
 Op. Cit., Pp. 7-8, 1963
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