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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Joseph W. Kennedy (1916-1957) was an American chemist.  

In 1940 he co-discovered plutonium with Glenn Seaborg, Edwin McMillan, and Arthur Wahl. Kennedy built the instruments that proved the existence of plutonium. Kennedy, Seaborg, and Wahl also demonstrated that plutonium was fissile, which was key for Manhattan Project research. Room 307 in Gilman Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, where they worked, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

He was one of the first recruits to arrive at Los Alamos in March 1943, where he was selected to lead the chemistry and metallurgy division even though he was only 26 years old. Kennedy’s division was responsible for many important duties, including the purification of plutonium, the fabrication of plutonium and uranium metal, and the handling of polonium and radio-lanthanum.

After World War II, Kennedy joined the chemistry department of Washington University in St. Louis and eventually became the Chemistry Department head.

Seaborg and McMillan received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 for  “their discoveries in the chemistry of the first transuranium elements.” Kennedy received $400,000 from the Atomic Energy Commission in 1955 for his role in the discovery of plutonium.

Joseph W. Kennedy's Timeline
1916 May 30th Born in Nacogdoches, Texas.
1939 Received his PhD in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.
1941 Feb Seaborg and McMillan produced plutonium-239 by bombarding uranium with deuterons. Kennedy's instrument verify the existence of plutonium.
1941 Mar 28th Kennedy, Seaborg, and Segre demonstrated that plutonium is fissile.
1942 Worked at the University of California, Berkeley's Radiation Laboratory.
1943 Mar1945 Worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos as head of the chemistry and metallurgy division.
1945 Joined the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis.
19461957 Chairman of the Department of Chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis.
1955 Received $400,000 from the Atomic Energy Commission for his role in the discovery of plutonium.
1957 May 5th Died in St. Louis, Missouri of stomach cancer at the age of 40.

Joseph W. Kennedy Medal of Merit Citation by President Harry Truman

General Leslie R. Groves awarding Joseph W. Kennedy the Medal for Merit

Joseph W. Kennedy's Medal for Merit Award Certificate

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