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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Harris Mayer, born in 1921, is an American physicist.

During World War II, Mayer joined the Manhattan Project at Columbia University. He first worked in a theoretical group that served as staff for physicist Harold Urey. In June of 1944, Mayer transferred to an opacity calculations group that was led by future Nobel laureate Maria Goeppert-Mayer (no relation) and supervised from Los Alamos by Edward Teller, whom Harris has described as “like a father” to him.

After the end of World War II, Mayer moved to the University of Chicago, where he became Teller’s graduate student. Teller arranged for Mayer to receive a Ph.D. in 1947 in recognition of his wartime work.

From 1947 to 1956, Mayer served as leader of the T-6 group at the Los Alamos laboratory. He participated in nuclear testing in the Pacific, including the Operation Greenhouse nuclear tests in 1951 and Operation Castle tests in 1954. He worked closely with fellow scientists who became lifelong friends, including Frederick Reines, Louis Rosen, and George Cowan.

Mayer subsequently worked for a number of private firms, including the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Aerospace Corporation. He remained affiliated with the Los Alamos laboratory as a consultant and worked on Project Orion, a 1950s nuclear propulsion project. He also worked with T Division and X Division at Los Alamos.

Mayer has written extensively about his experiences working at the Los Alamos laboratory and about his friendships and encounters with fellow scientists. His publications include: “Methods of Opacity Calculations,” “An Inconclusive Meeting of the Theoretical Megaton Group,” and “People of the Hill: The Early Days.”

Harris Mayer's Timeline
1921 Born.
1944 Jun Began working in the opacity calculations group at Columbia University for Maria Goeppert-Mayer and Edward Teller.
1946 Transferred to continue his work at the University of Chicago.
1947 Received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
19471956 Served as leader of the T-6 group at the Los Alamos laboratory.
1958 Hired as a consultant on Project Orion.

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