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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

In Memoriam: Roy Glauber


Manhattan Project veteran Roy Glauber passed away on December 26, 2018 at the age of 93. Glauber, recruited to join the project when he was 18 years old, was one of the youngest scientists at Los Alamos during World War II.

Glauber was born in New York City on September 1, 1925. Because his father was an itinerant salesman, the family traveled around the country during the first six years of Glauber’s life before returning to New York. “There was nothing scientific on my mind at all until around about the time I was ten. I then began reading about astronomy, and before long developed a passionate interest. I tried building telescopes according to diagrams that I saw in the encyclopedia,” Glauber recalled in his 2013 interview with the Atomic Heritage Foundation. He attended the Bronx High School for Science, where his rapid development allowed him to skip several grades. At 16, Glauber graduated and was accepted into the physics program at Harvard University.

Glauber was still at Harvard two years later when he was approached by M.H. Trytten, the director of the National Research Council’s Office of Scientific Personnel. In charge of recruiting junior scientists at American universities, Trytten offered Glauber an opportunity to work at Los Alamos. “The burning question, of course, was, what in the world would they be working on out west?” Glauber remembered. “I knew of the discovery of fission, or the explanation of fission, and a certain amount of speculation that was in the press over the course of just a couple of weeks, and it had vanished. It had been stamped out completely.”

Upon his arrival at Los Alamos, Glauber was assigned to a team led by Hans Bethe, calculating the critical mass and neutron diffusion necessary for an atomic bomb. Glauber interacted with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Stanislaus Ulam, Robert Serber, and John von Neumann. Since he was not authorized to join the group of physicists closest to the Trinity Test site, Glauber and a small group of people camped on Sandia Peak near Albuquerque to witness the first atomic detonation on July 16, 1945.

In December 1946, Glauber left Los Alamos to finish his undergraduate degree at Harvard before pursuing his PhD. After earning his doctorate in 1949, Glauber conducted research at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, NJ with Oppenheimer and worked briefly at Caltech before returning to teach at Harvard in 1952.

Glauber devoted his career to developing theories regarding quantum physics and its application to light. Glauber was awarded half of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics for his foundational research in the field of quantum optics, presenting a method theory of detecting photons. His work identified the differences between thermal light sources like light bulbs and coherent ones, such as lasers. Glauber also was the “Keeper of the Broom” for the IG Nobel Prize ceremony, where he enthusiastically  swept away paper airplanes from the ceremony stage.

In addition to his positions at Harvard and the IG Nobel Prize ceremonies, Glauber served on the Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute of Light.

For more about Glauber and his involvement with the Manhattan Project, you can listen to his interviews on the Voices of the Manhattan Project website and visit his profile on the AHF website. You can also read obituaries in the Washington Post, the Harvard Crimson, and Physics World.