Glenn T. Seaborg


Glenn T. Seaborg : biography

19 April 1912 – 25 February 1999

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

Selected Bibliography

Return to California

Following his service as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Seaborg returned to UC Berkeley where he was awarded the position of University Professor. At the time, there had been fewer University Professors at UC Berkeley than Nobel prize winners. He also served as Chairman of the Lawrence Hall of Science where he became the principal investigator for Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS)

working with director Jacqueline Barber. Seaborg served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972, and as President of the American Chemical Society in 1976. 

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

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Seaborg to serve on the National Commission on Excellence in Education. Upon seeing the final draft report, Seaborg is credited with making comments that it was far too weak and did not communicate the urgency of the current crisis. He compared the crisis in education to the arms race, and stated that we are "a nation at risk." These comments led to a new introduction to the report and gave the report the famous title which focused national attention on education as an issue germane to the federal government.

Seaborg with Vice President [[Al Gore in the White House during a visit of the 1993 Science Talent Search (STS) finalists on March 4, 1993]] Seaborg lived most of his later life in Lafayette, California, where he devoted himself to editing and publishing the journals that documented both his early life and later career. He rallied a group of scientists who criticized the science curriculum in the state of California which he viewed as far too socially oriented and not nearly focused enough on hard science. California Governor Pete Wilson appointed Seaborg to head a committee that proposed sweeping changes to California’s science curriculum despite outcries from labor organizations and others.

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

Early life

Glen Theodore Seaborg was born in Ishpeming, Michigan, on April 19, 1912, the son of Herman Theodore (Ted) and Selma Olivia Erickson Seaborg. He had one sister, Jeanette, who was two years younger. His family spoke Swedish at home. When Glenn Seaborg was a boy, the family moved to Los Angeles County, California, settling in a subdivision called Home Gardens, later annexed to the City of South Gate, California. About this time he changed the spelling of his first name to "Glenn".