Edwin McMillan (1977) - Early Days at the Lawrence Laboratory

Edwin McMillan (1977)

Early Days at the Lawrence Laboratory

Edwin McMillan (1977)

Early Days at the Lawrence Laboratory

Comment

There is a set of physicists who have been rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Edwin McMillan belongs to this set. This has to do with a tradition of the Nobel Committees of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that became established at the beginning of the 20th Century, that work done in the field of radioactivity should be regarded as belonging to chemistry. Thus, already in 1908, Ernest Rutherford received the chemistry prize and expressed his consternation that he, a physicist, should be rewarded in this way. But when McMillan received his prize in 1951, primarily for the discovery of the radioactive element with atomic number 93, neptunium, the tradition was well established. For his lecture in Lindau, his second and last, McMillan choose to give some historical reminiscences from the laboratory founded by Ernest Lawrence, the inventor of the cyclotron and a Nobel Laureate in Physics 1939. The laboratory was originally named Berkeley Radiation Laboratory and was founded in 1931 to house Lawrence’s cyclotron and other radiation generating machines. McMillan arrived there already in 1934 and tells a fascinating story of the people and the work done there. After the discovery of the neutron, the 1930’s became a hothouse for nuclear physics, at least in terms of the discovery of “new” elements and isotopes through neutron bombardment of “old” elements. This also became a natural cross-disciplinary area, where physicists and chemists worked together, the physicists producing the new elements and the chemists studying their properties. A classical and much discussed case is the close collaboration between the physicist Lise Meitner and the chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, resulting in the discovery of nuclear fission, for which Otto Hahn alone was rewarded with the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 1951, though, both the physicist and the chemist were asked to come to Stockholm to receive the chemistry prize!

Anders Bárány

Rate this content

 (<5 ratings)

Cite


Specify width: px

Share

Rate this content

 (<5 ratings)

Cite


Specify width: px

Share


Related Content