Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Nerses “Krik” Krikorian was a chemist at Los Alamos during the later years of Manhattan Project. 

After World War II, Krikorian was approached to join the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. On August 19, 1946, he arrived at 109 East Palace in Santa Fe. Krikorian told the Los Alamos Monitor, “I went from working with kilograms of uranium at Union Carbide to micrograms of highly radioactive polonium. I went from the sublime to the ridiculous.” The polonium was for the construction of polonium-beryllium initiators.

He met his future wife, Katherine “Pat” Patterson, at Los Alamos. In 1943, she arrived at Los Alamos as a member of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), and worked as a secretary during the Manhattan Project.


Early Years

Nerses “Krik” Krikorian was born on a Turkish roadside in 1921. At the time, his parents were fleeing the Armenian genocide. His family moved from country to country for the next four years with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Eventually, his family found refuge in Canada. At the age of four, Krikorian moved with his family to Niagara Falls, New York. 

In 1943, Krikorian graduated with honors and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Niagara University. After graduation, he began working at Union Carbide in a laboratory that produced high-purity uranium.


Later Years

In the mid-1950s, Krikorian began to work on Project Rover, a joint project between the Atomic Energy Commission and NASA to build a thermal nuclear rocket for space applications. According to the Los Alamos Monitor, Krikorian was responsible for ensuring “that the materials would support the rigorous demands of nuclear propulsion at high temperatures.” The work was especially challenging because little research had been done in the field at the time.

Throughout his career, Krikorian amassed six patents and published numerous technical assessments and analyses. The topics ranged from laser isotope separation and high-temperature reactor materials to directed-energy nuclear weapons.

Around the same time Project Rover was canceled in 1972, Krikorian was approached by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Director Harold Agnew to join a new intelligence unit. He became one of the six staff members originally assigned to the unit and became the group’s security officer. While working with the unit, he met with representatives of the Soviet Union’s nuclear research program.

In 1991, Krikorian retired from LANL. He was named a LANL Fellow and has received the Los Alamos Medal (the top LANL award), the CIA’s Intelligence Community Medallion, and two honorary doctorates. In 2006, Krikorian attended the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s “Legacy of the Manhattan Project: Creativity in Science and the Arts” event in Los Alamos, NM. 

In a 2017 interview, Krikorian reflected, “Things have worked out far beyond what I ever imagined. I think of my parents and wonder, ‘How did they ever do it?’ My parents instilled in me the importance of doing the right thing and giving back to your fellow man. I hope I’ve done that.”

Krikorian passed away on April 18, 2018 at the age of 97.

For more information about Nerses “Krik” Krikorian, please see the following references:

Nerses “Krik” Krikorian's Timeline
1921 Born in Turkey.
1925 Moved to the United States.
1943 Graduated with honors and a B.S. in Chemistry from Niagara University.
19431946 Worked at Union Carbide.
1946 Joined the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
1972 Joined the LANL intelligence unit.
1991 Retired from LANL.
2009 Sep 24th Named to Niagara Legacy - Alumni of Distinction.
2018 Apr 18th Passed away in Los Alamos, NM at the age of 97.

Related Profiles

Jule Hirschfield

K-25 Plant

Attended Carnegie Technical Institute.

John L. Downey

Tinian Island

John L. Downey served as a 2nd lieutenant in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron. He was the bombardier regularly assigned to the Laggin’ Dragon.

Constance Wood

Los Alamos, NM

Constance “Connie” Wood (1919-2007) was a metallographic technician in the Chemistry Division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project.

Maurice Sullivan

Tinian Island

Maurice Sullivan served in the 1395th Military Police Aviation.