Edwin Roberts Russell (1913-1996) was an African American chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory.
Russell was born in Columbia, South Carolina on June 19, 1913. He earned a B.A. from Benedict College in 1935 and an M.A. in Chemistry from Howard University in 1937. From 1936-1942, Russell served as a chemistry assistant and instructor at Howard University.
In 1942, Russell attended the University of Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in surface chemistry. There he joined the Manhattan Project and served as an assistant research chemist at the Chicago Met Lab. Russell’s top-secret research focused on isolating and extracting plutonium-239 from uranium.
Following the war, Russell served as Chairman of the Division of Science at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. He then became a research chemist at DuPont’s Savannah River Nuclear Laboratory in Aiken, South Carolina. While at DuPont, Russell earned eleven patents researching atomic energy processes such as nuclear energy and radioactive waste treatment.
He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Chemical Society (ACS). Russell died on April 7, 1996 at the age of 82 in Columbia, South Carolina. Shortly after his death, the South Carolina Legislature passed a resolution celebrating his achievements and declaring him “one of South Carolina’s ablest and most distinguished leaders.”
Photograph courtesy of Vivian Russell Baker.