Robert Serber (1909 - 1997)

Robert Serber was born on March 14, 1909, in Philadelphia. He earned a doctorate in physics at the University of Wisconsin in 1934, then moved to the University of California, Berkeley, to work with J. Robert Oppenheimer. He later became an associate professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana, until 1941, when Oppenheimer, his friend and mentor, asked him to join him on the Manhattan Project.

During the summer of 1942, many of the basic principles of fission bomb physics and design were worked out. Serber developed the first good theory of bomb disassembly hydrodynamics. In April 1943, when scientists were first gathering at Los Alamos, Serber was responsible for giving a series of lectures to the technical workers on the project, explaining its basic principles and goals (much of which was based on Serber's own work). These lectures were printed and supplied to all incoming scientific staff, and became known as The Los Alamos Primer, LA-1. It was declassified in 1965.

In early September 1945, Serber was with the first American team to enter Hiroshima and Nagasaki to assess the damage that the atomic bombs had done. He spent five weeks there doing this assessment and collecting debris for tests.

After the war, Serber returned to Berkeley as professor of physics, then moved on to Columbia University. In 1948, he had to defend himself against anonymous accusations of disloyalty, mostly due to the fact that his wife's family were Jewish intellectuals with Socialist leanings, and also because he tried to remove politics from discussions of the feasibility of the fusion bomb, leading to arguments with Edward Teller. While he later became an advocate of arms control, he never became an outspoken critic of nuclear weapons, as did some other Manhattan Project scientists.

Serber went on to be consultant to numerous labs, businesses and commissions. He retired from Columbia University in 1978, and later was named a professor emeritus at the university. He died on June 1, 1997.

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