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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Arthur C. Wahl (1917-2006) was an American chemist. 

After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1942, Wahl was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer and Glenn Seaborg to come to Los Alamos in 1943. One of Wahl’s main tasks included figuring out a way to purify the plutonium that arrived from B Reactor in Hanford to reduce the possibility of spontaneous fission. He developed a technique for purifying plutonium that is still used today.

In 1946, Washington University in St. Louis recruited Joseph W. Kennedy to be chairman of its chemistry department. Kennedy accepted on the condition that he could bring Wahl and four other members of the Los Alamos chemistry group with him to St. Louis. From 1952 through his retirement in 1983, Wahl served as the University’s Henry V. Farr Professor of Radiochemistry. Wahl later returned to Los Alamos and continued publishing until 2005, a year before his death.

Scientific Contributions

As a Ph.D. student, Wahl was part of the team—including Glenn Seaborg, Joseph W. Kennedy, and Edwin McMillan—that isolated and identified the element plutonium in 1941. It immediately became clear to the scientists working on the element that the isotope of plutonium with the mass number 239 was fissionable and could be used to make a weapon.

During his tenure at Washington University, Wahl was known for his work on oxidation-reduction chemistry and fission yields.

Arthur Wahl's Timeline
1917 Sep 8th Born in Des Moines, Iowa.
1939 Obtained B.S. in Radiochemistry from Iowa State University.
1941 Feb Co-discovered and isolated the radioactive isotope plutonium with a team of scientists, including Glenn Seaborg, at University of California, Berkeley.
1942 Received Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley.
19431946 Worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.
1966 Received the American Chemical Society Award in Nuclear Chemistry.
2006 Mar 6th Died in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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