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Scientific and Luminary Biography - Glenn Seaborg

Glenn Seaborg

Glenn Seaborg was born in Ishpeming, Michigan in 1912. He did not take an interest in science until his junior year when he was inspired by a chemistry and physics teacher at David Starr Jordan High School. He received a bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1933. While at UCLA, he was invited by his German professor to meet Albert Einstein, an experience that had a profound impact on Seaborg.

Seaborg received his PhD in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1937 with a doctoral thesis on the inelastic scattering of neutrons in which he coined the term "nuclear spallation". He was a member of the professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma. As a graduate student in the 1930s Seaborg performed wet chemistry research for his advisor Gilbert Newton Lewis.

Seaborg remained at the University of California, Berkeley for post-doctoral research. He followed Frederick Soddy's work investigating isotopes and contributed to the discovery of more than 100 isotopes of elements. Using one of Lawrence's advanced cyclotrons, John Livingood, Fred Fairbrother, and Seaborg created a new isotope of iron, iron-59 (Fe-59) in 1937. Iron-59 was useful in the studies of the hemoglobin or human blood.  In 1938, Livingood and Seaborg collaborated (as they did for five years) to create an important isotope of iodine, iodine-131 (I-131) which is still used to treat thyroid disease.

He is credited as a lead discoverer of americium, curium, and berkelium, and as a co-discoverer of californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, and nobelium. He shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 with Edwin McMillan for "their discoveries in the chemistry of the first transuranium elements.

In 1942 Seaborg 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 U238 to plutonium in the world's first 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. He was responsible for the multi-stage chemical process that separated concentrated and isolated plutonium.

About the Argonne National Laboratory Named Fellowships

Argonne offers these special postdoctoral fellowships to be awarded internationally on an annual basis to outstanding doctoral scientists and engineers who are at early points in promising careers. The fellowships are named after scientific and technical luminaries who have been associated with the laboratory, its predecessors and the University of Chicago since the 1940s. Read more about the program »

December 2013


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