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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

George Kistiakowsky (1900-1982) was a Ukrainian-American physical chemist. 

He joined the Manhattan Project in late January 1944, leaving his role as chief of the National Defense Research Committee’s Explosives Division. He replaced Seth Neddermeyer as head of X (Explosives) Division and by spring 1945 had over 600 people working on solving the complicated problem of igniting the plutonium core in the atomic bomb. Under Kistiakowsky’s leadership, the complex explosive lenses that would uniformly compress the plutonium sphere to achieve critical mass were developed.

 

Scientific Contributions

Kistiakowsky fought in the anti-Communist White Army’s infantry and tank corps during the Russian Revolution. After the Bolshevik victory, Kistiakowsky fled to Germany, where he began to study at the University of Berlin in 1921. He received a PhD in chemistry in 1925, then moved to the United States the next year and taught at Princeton as an International Education Board Fellow.  In 1930 he joined the faculty at Harvard as a chemistry professor. While teaching at Harvard throughout the 1930s, Kistiakowsky applied his expertise in thermodynamics, spectroscopy, and chemical kinetics to military research, corporate consulting, and political advising. 

After World War II, Kistiakowsky returned to teach at Harvard. He was named to President Eisenhower’s Presidential Science Advisory Committee and became Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology in 1959. To protest the war in Vietnam, Kistiakowsky broke ties with the Pentagon in 1968.  Throughout the 1960s and 70s Kistiakowsky spent extensive time working with the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. 

George Kistiakowsky's Timeline
1900 Nov 18th Born in Kiev, Ukraine.
1921 Began studies at the University of Berlin.
1925 Awarded Ph.D. in Chemistry from University of Berlin.
19261930 Taught at Princeton University.
1930 Joined faculty at Harvard University.
1933 Became associate professor of chemistry at Harvard University.
1940 Appointed head of section A-1, responsible for explosives, in Division B of the National Defense Research Committee.
1941 Jun1942 Dec The National Defense Research Committee was absorbed into the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Kistiakowsky became head of Section B, responsible for bombs, fuels, gases and chemicals.
1942 Dec1944 Feb Became head of Division 8, responsible for explosives and propellants, of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
1944 Jan1945 Worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos as head of the X (Explosives) Division.
19591961 Chairman of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
1982 Dec 17th Died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

George Kistiakowsky

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