For those of you who don’t know, Glenn Seaborg was a highly influential chemist who won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was also a huge advocate for the peaceful use of Nuclear energy and was an adviser to 10 Presidents during his career.
Seaborg spent most of his career as an educator and research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, serving as a professor, and, between 1958 and 1961, as the university’s second chancellor. He advised ten US Presidents – from Harry S. Truman to Bill Clinton – on nuclear policy and was Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to 1971, where he pushed for commercial nuclear energy and the peaceful applications of nuclear science. Throughout his career, Seaborg worked for arms control. He was a signatory to the Franck Report and contributed to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He was a well-known advocate of science education and federal funding for pure research. Toward the end of the Eisenhower administration, he was the principal author of the Seaborg Report on academic science, and, as a member of President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, he was a key contributor to its 1983 report “A Nation at Risk”.
Seaborg was the principal or co-discoverer of ten elements: plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium and element 106, which, while he was still living, was named seaborgium in his honor. He also discovered more than 100 atomic isotopes and is credited with important contributions to the chemistry of plutonium, originally as part of the Manhattan Project where he developed the extraction process used to isolate the plutonium fuel for the second atomic bomb. Early in his career, he was a pioneer in nuclear medicine and discovered isotopes of elements with important applications in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, including iodine-131, which is used in the treatment of thyroid disease. In addition to his theoretical work in the development of the actinide concept, which placed the actinide series beneath the lanthanide series on the periodic table, he postulated the existence of super-heavy elements in the transactinide and superactinide series.
After sharing the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Edwin McMillan, he received approximately 50 honorary doctorates and numerous other awards and honors. The list of things named after Seaborg ranges from the chemical element Seaborgium to the asteroid 4856 Seaborg. He was a prolific author, penning numerous books and 500 journal articles, often in collaboration with others. He was once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person with the longest entry in Who’s Who in America.
After appointment by President John F. Kennedy and confirmation by the United States Senate, Seaborg was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1961 to 1971. His pending appointment by President-elect Kennedy was nearly derailed in late 1960 when members of the Kennedy transition team learned that Seaborg had been listed in a U.S. News & World Report article as a member of “Nixon’s Idea Men”. Seaborg said that as a lifetime Democrat he was baffled when the article appeared associating him with outgoing Vice President Richard Nixon, a Republican whom Seaborg considered a casual acquaintance.
During the early 1960s, Seaborg became concerned with the ecological and biological effects of nuclear weapons, especially those that would impact human life significantly. In response, he commissioned the Technical Analysis Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission to study these matters further. Seaborg’s provision for these innovative studies led the U.S. Government to more seriously pursue the development and possible use of “clean” nuclear weapons.
While chairman of the AEC, Seaborg participated on the negotiating team for the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), in which the US, UK, and USSR agreed to ban all above-ground test detonations of nuclear weapons. Seaborg considered his contributions to the achievement of the LTBT as one of his greatest accomplishments. Despite strict rules from the Soviets about photography at the signing ceremony, Seaborg used a tiny camera to take a close-up photograph of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as he signed the treaty.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the background – here is an interview conducted for Meet The Press on October 29, 1961.