Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Glenn Seaborg (1912-1999) was an American nuclear chemist and winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  

During World War II, much of Seaborg’s research was directed toward understanding the chemistry of plutonium. In February 1941, Seaborg and his colleagues produced plutonium-239 through the bombardment of uranium. This experimental achievement proved to be a major contribution in physicists’ understanding of atomic fission.

On March 28, 1941, Seaborg, physicist Emilio Segre and Berkeley chemist Joseph W. Kennedy were able to demonstrate that plutonium underwent fission with slow neutrons, an important distinction that was crucial to the decisions made in directing Manhattan Project research. Seaborg also helped to develop the extraction process used to isolate the plutonium fuel for the “Fat Man” bomb.

In 1942 Seaborg joined the chemistry division at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory. Seaborg was responsible for determining how to extract and isolate plutonium from uranium. His work was developed into industrial processes for producing plutonium at Hanford, WA.

Scientific Contributions

Seaborg was the principal or co-discoverer of 10 elements.  He received patents for the element americium and curium. 

After the war Seaborg returned to Berkeley as an academic while also directing the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, part of the US Atomic Energy Commission. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements.” He served as a member of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission until 1960. From 1958 to 1961 he was chancellor of Berkeley, and his term paved the way for the Free Speech Movement of the mid-1960s.  

During the Eisenhower administration he was a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, and became chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to 1971. During his tenure he was on the negotiating team for the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the US, UK, and USSR. Seaborg also influenced President Johnson’s administration to pursue the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and was called on as a nuclear advisor for President Nixon.

Glenn Seaborg's Timeline
1912 Apr 19th Born in Ishpeming, Michigan.
1933 Received a B.A. from University of California, Los Angeles in chemistry.
1937 Received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.
1939 Joined the chemistry department faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.
1941 Feb Seaborg and Edwin McMillan produced plutonium-239 by bombarding uranium with deuterons.
1941 Mar 28th Seaborg, Joseph W. Kennedy and Emilio Segre demonstrated that plutonium is fissile.
19421945 Worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Laboratory in the chemistry division.
1948 Elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
1951 Received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
19541961 Associate director of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory.
19581961 Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.
19611971 Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission.
1999 Feb 25th Died in Lafayette, California.

Glenn Seaborg in his lab

Glenn Seaborg in Room 307, Gilman Hall, at Berkeley in 1961

Glenn Seaborg and Edwin McMillan

Glenn Seaborg

Glenn and Helen Seaborg

Related Profiles

Paris A. Howard

Los Alamos, NM

Paris Howard was a member of the Special Engineering Detachment (SED) assigned to Los Alamos from May 1945 to April 1946.

Ethel Alber

Hanford, WA

J. P. Baxter

Y-12 Plant

J. P. Baxter worked for the Tennessee Eastman Corporation at the Y-12 Plant.

Joseph B. Borger

Tinian Island

Joseph B. Borger served in the 603rd Air Engineering Squadron.