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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

James J. Nickson

Section Chief; Medical DoctorChicago, IL

Manhattan Project VeteranScientistSpouse to Manhattan Project Worker

James J. Nickson was a medical doctor and Section Chief of H-III Medical Industrial Hazards and Health Physics in the Health Division at the University of Chicago Met Lab. His wife Dr. Margaret J. Nickson was also a doctor at the Met Lab.

As section chief, Nickson was responsible for assessing the biological hazards of materials (e.g. plutonium) used at the Met Lab and instituting safety and protective measures against potential lab hazards. To determine these hazard levels and develop safety precautions, he organized the testing of workers’ hands, noses, and faces, as well as sputum, urine and feces analysis. 

He also studied blood changes in humans caused by total body irradiation and examined bone structures in animals exposed to radiation. According to the Journal of Glenn T. Seaborg, Vol. 4, Nickson even requested to “receive any teeth extracted from individuals working with plutonium” because his group “found in experiments with dogs that teeth, while not containing as much plutonium as bones, contain distinctly more plutonium than soft tissue” (p. 36). 

Some of his safety precautions and measures included the provision of Army assault gas masks to the New Chem filtered-air section to prevent breathing plutonium, discouragement of eating lunch in the West Stand offices, decontamination of rooms deemed as “hot spots” in his weekly health surveys. 

Nickson was also on the Met Lab’s Committee on Social and Political Implications. Other members of the committee included Arthur N. Jaffey, Robert J. Maurer and John A. Simpson, Jr. Nickson was a co-author of the Franck Report and a signer of the Szilard Petition.

After World War II, Dr. Nickson and his wife both worked at Argonne National Laboratory.


For more information about Nickson, his studies and safety measures, please see the following references:

James J. Nickson's Timeline
19431946 Worked on the Manhattan Project as a research associate and doctor in the Biology Division.
1945 Co-authored the Franck Report.
1945 Signed the Szilard Petition.

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