May 12, 1897-October 15, 1966
By Philip H. Abelson
Ross Gunn was one of the most versatile physicists of the early and mid-twentieth century. He made significant contributions to knowledge in many fields of science and technology. He created novel instrumentation, much of which was designed to facilitate studies of natural phenomena such as thunderstorms. In the course of his career he obtained more than forty patents.
From 1927 to 1947 Gunn was a research physicist on the staff of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. In 1934 he was appointed technical adviser for the entire laboratory. In that role he interacted with important naval personnel. In March 1939 he wrote a memorandum to Admiral H. G. Bowen, chief of the Navy's Bureau of Ships, outlining the tremendous advantages that could be expected from the use of atomic energy in submarine propulsion.
In the latter years of World War II Gunn was simultaneously superintendent of the Mechanics and Electricity Division, superintendent of the Aircraft Electrical Division, and technical director of the Army-Navy Precipitation Static Project, as well as technical adviser to the naval administration. He also fostered development of the liquid thermal diffusion method for separation of uranium isotopes. This led to large-scale use of the process by the U.S. Army's Manhattan District at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.