Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Francis Birch

GeophysicistLos Alamos, NM

MITTinian Island
Manhattan Project VeteranProject AlbertaScientist
Albert Francis Birch.

Francis Birch (1903-1992) was an American geophysicist.

In 1942, Birch worked at the MIT Radiation Lab, which was tasked with radar development. One of his primary projects was the proximity fuze, a device that used radar to determine the exact height to detonate a bomb. 

Later, Birch was transferred to Los Alamos to join the Ordnance Division under Captain William Parsons. He first worked on the Thin Man plutonium prototype, but switched to work on the Little Boy uranium bomb after the Thin Man project was scrapped. Birch was put in charge of overseeing the manufacturing process of the uranium bomb in 1944.

Birch traveled with Little Boy to Tinian to supervise its assembly and the loading of the bomb onto the Enola Gay. He also created the ‘double plug’ system, which allowed Little Boy to be armed in the air, so that if the Enola Gay crashed, there would not be a nuclear explosion.

Francis Birch's Timeline
1903 Aug 22nd Born in Washington, DC.
1924 Graduated from Harvard with a degree in electrical engineering.
1932 Received his Ph.D from Harvard.
1942 Worked at the MIT Radiation Lab on the proximity fuze.
1943 Moved to the Ordnance Division at Los Alamos.
1945 Went to Tinian to assist with the assembly and deployment of Little Boy.
1950 Elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
1961 Published two papers on compressional wave velocities that established a rule that would later be known as Birch's Law.
1992 Jan 30th Died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Francis Birch and Norman Ramsey number Little Boy L-11

Related Profiles

W. S. Dulany

Hanford, WA

Vincent J. Galvani

Vincent J. Galvani was a chemical engineer who helped design the trigger mechanism for the atom bomb.

Richard G. Duffield

Los Alamos, NM

Mario S. Pompilio

Los Alamos, NM