Glenn T. Seaborg


Glenn T. Seaborg : biography

19 April 1912 – 25 February 1999

Seaborg published several books and journal articles during his tenure at the Atomic Energy Commission. His predictions concerning development of stable super-heavy elements are considered among his most important theoretical contributions.

He theorized the transactinide series and the superactinide series of undiscovered synthetic elements. While most of these theoretical future elements have extremely short half-lives and thus no expected practical applications, he theorized an island of stability for isotopes of certain elements. When Seaborg resigned as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1971, he had served longer than any other Kennedy appointee. 

Professor and Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley

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

Seaborg served as chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1958 to 1961. His term came at a time of considerable controversy during the time of the free speech movement. In October 1958, he announced that the University had relaxed its prior prohibitions on political activity on a test basis.

Seaborg was an enthusiastic supporter of Cal’s sports teams. San Francisco columnist Herb Caen was fond of pointing out that Seaborg’s surname is an anagram of "Go Bears", a popular cheer at UC Berkeley.

Seaborg was proud of the fact that the Cal Bears won their first and only National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball championship in 1959, while he was chancellor. The football team also won the conference title and played in the Rose Bowl that year. He served on the Faculty Athletic Committee for several years and was the co-author of a book, Roses from the Ashes: Breakup and Rebirth in Pacific Coast Intercollegiate Athletics (2000), concerning the Pacific Coast Conference recruiting scandal, and the founding of what is now the Pac-12, in which he played a role in restoring confidence in the integrity of collegiate sports. 

Seaborg served on the President’s Science Advisory Commission during the Eisenhower administration, which produced the report "Scientific Progress, the Universities, and the Federal Government," also known as the "Seaborg Report," in November 1960. The Seaborg Report is credited with influencing the federal policy towards academic science for the next eight years. In 1959, he helped found the Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory with University of California president Clark Kerr.

Scientific contributions during the Manhattan Project

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