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Austin M. Brues (1906-1991) was the Director of the Biology Division at the Manhattan Project’s Chicago location, the Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab)

In 1944, he left Harvard University to join the Met Lab and work in Site B, the lab’s location for scientists in the metallurgy and health divisions. As a medical doctor and radiation researcher,  Dr. Brues explored the biological effects of exposure to radiation.

According to Brues Site B included “an animal farm with a remarkable number of small animals, mostly mice,” which they used for radiation experiments. Mice would be exposed to both neutrons and X-rays. Once plutonium was in greater supply, they also performed tests on dogs and goats. 

Activities at Site B were coordinated with Site X also known as Oak Ridge. Brues recalls that during the war, they would be “buying mice every fortnight and then reshipping half of them to Oak Ridge by a truck that brought us back fission products.” This exchange of resources was due to the Met Lab’s possession of an X-ray machine and the military’s refusal to buy one for Oak Ridge.

Brues was one of the seventy scientists at the Met Lab to sign Leo Szilard’s petition against the U.S.’s use of the atomic bomb against Japan. Written on July 17, 1945, the petition argued against using the bomb before Japan had the chance to surrender and the terms of post-war plans became public. It was never read by President Truman or the Secretary of War before the bombing of Hiroshima.

In 1945, he also became a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. 

 

Early Years

Austin M. Brues was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 25, 1906. He attended Harvard University and graduated in 1926. While at Harvard, he received numerous accolades, such as the Charles Sumner Scholarship and Parmenter Scholarship.

In his pursuit of a medical career, he stayed at Harvard for its medical school and graduated in 1930. His studies and research focused on the biological effects of radiation exposure, battlefield shock, and P32 therapies. 

After graduating from Harvard Medical School, Brues became a professor at Harvard. He also worked as a doctor in many Boston area hospitals and served as a consultant for the Army Chemical Corps, Army Surgeon General, and the United States Public Health Service (USPHS).

 

Later Years

Following World War II, Brues worked at Argonne National Laboratory, the successor of the Met Lab. At Argonne, he served as both the Director of the Biology Division (1946-1950) and Director of the Medical Division (1950-1962). At the same time, he served on the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), a group of experts put together by the United States Secretary of War to study the effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors.

In her interview on the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s  Voices of the Manhattan Project website, Floy Agnes Lee recalls her twenty-two years working as an assistant to Brues at Argonne. Her first assignment for Brues was to grow living cells on nylon film for radiation study. Lee referred to Brues as a “wonderful person,” who was greatly “knowledgeable in physics and everything as far as radiation was concerned.”

Lee also described how Brues was rather serious in the lab. According to her memory, the only time she saw him show emotion was after John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963. 

Besides serving on the ABCC, Brues also worked as a consultant to other American and international commissions to analyze the long-term effects of radiation. His interest in medicine and radiation translated into a career in cancer research. From 1954 to 1955, Brues served as the President of the American Association for Cancer Research. In the next two years, he held the position of president for the Radiation Research Society.

In 1979, he was named a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. At the age of eighty-five, Dr. Brues died of Alzheimer’s disease in Hinsdale, Illinois. During his life he had three children with his wife, Mildred; Roger, Nancy, and Charles. He was survived by Mildred, Nancy, and Charles. 

 

For more information on Dr. Austin M. Brues, please see the following resources:

Austin M. Brues's Timeline
1906 Apr 25th Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
19221926 Attended and graduated from Harvard University.
19221923 Awarded Charles Sumner Scholarship.
19251926 Awarded Parmenter Scholarship.
1930 Graduated from Harvard Medical School.
1935 Awarded the William O. Moseley, Jr., Travelling Fellowship (for study abroad) from Harvard.
19441946 Served as the Director of the Biology Division at the Met Lab.
1945 Became a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
19461950 Served as the Director of the Biology Division at Argonne National Laboratory.
19461975 Worked as a member of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.
19501962 Served as the Director of the Medical Division at Argonne.
1954 Became President of the American Association for Cancer Research.
1955 Became President of the Radiation Research Society.
1979 Named professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.
1991 Feb 27th At the age of eighty-five, died from Alzheimer's disease in Hinsdale, Illinois.

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