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Memorial Tributes, Volume 12
ALVIN M. WEINBERG 1915–2006
Elected in 1975
“For contributions in reactor design, development, safety, and understandingof how nuclear power must help meet world energy demands.”
BY JEFFREY WADSWORTH
ALVIN WEINBERG, a leading figure in the development of nuclear energy, died at his home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on October 18, 2006. Born in Chicago in 1915, Alvin received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He completed his doctorate in mathematical biophysics in 1939 and was soon drawn into the Manhattan Project, working with Eugene Wigner at the Metallurgical Laboratory to design the Hanford plutonium-production reactors. The two became friends as well as colleagues and later collaborated on a classic text, The Physical Theory of Neutron Chain Reactors. Although Alvin cited this book as his major accomplishment as a practicing scientist, he also deserves credit for stimulating the development of several innovative reactor designs, including the pressurized light-water reactor adopted for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarines. But he made his mark chiefly in scientific administration and science policy.
Alvin moved to Oak Ridge in May 1945 to work at the Manhattan Project X-10 site, where the Clinton Pile, a pilot plant for producing plutonium, had been constructed. Wigner had drawn up a plan for expanding X-10 into a laboratory for nuclear research with an associated school of reactor technologies, and he persuaded Alvin to join him there as chief of physics. As things turned out, Wigner led the work at Oak Ridge for only a year, while Alvin devoted the next 25 years to