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Memorial Tributes, Volume 14
JOSEPH E. BURKE
Elected in 1976
“For contributions and administration ofresearch and development in ceramics.”
BY R. NED LANDON AND JACK H. WESTBROOK
DR. JOSEPH E. BURKE, a key innovator in the “science of ceramic materials” died in Schenectady, New York, on February 29, 2000. Joe’s remarkable life began in Berkeley, California, where he was born on September 1, 1914, to Charles Eldrid and Ruth Enid (Hancock) Burke. He lived his early years in Canada and was a 1938 graduate of McMaster University. He received his doctorate in ceramic science from Cornell University and worked for the International Nickel Company and the Norton Company until being handpicked in 1943 to join the world-famous Oppenheimer-led Manhattan Project team at Los Alamos.
During World War II, 1943–1946, Dr. Burke worked at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, National Laboratory, where he helped design, build, and manage the first large-scale facility for the preparation of plutonium nitrate and its conversion to bomb cores. Dr. Burke’s contributions to the development of the first atomic weapon were eventually detailed in “Recollections of Wartime Los Alamos: Uranium Hydride Preparation and Plutonium Processing” (Journal of Nuclear Materials, volume 100, November 16, 1981).
When wartime restrictions were later eased, Joe and his wife, Mary, collaborated on a fascinating report of life in Los Alamos, including Mary’s role in the birth and upbringing of the Burke children and her development of longtime