Philip Morrison (1915 - 2005)

Philip Morrison
Philip Morrison

Philip Morrison was born on November 7, 1915, in Somerville, New Jersey. Stricken with polio as a child, a disease that left him partly handicapped, he started tinkering with machinery and was building radios by age 5. He grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) and then the University of California, Berkeley, where he obtained a Ph.D. in physics.

In 1945, Morrison was among the scientists of the Manhattan Project, along with J. Robert Oppenheimer, his former graduate-school teacher, and was witness to the Trinity nuclear testing. He helped assemble the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was part of a team that toured Japan after the country's surrender ended World War II.

Following the war, Morrison became a forceful advocate of international arms control, helping to found the Federation of American Scientists, writing for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, appearing at meetings and signing statements opposing militarism. His views on disarmament led him to be labeled a communist sympathizer, and he was called to testify before the U.S. Senate International Security Subcommittee in 1953.

In 1946, Morrison left Los Alamos and jointed Hans Bethe at Cornell, where he became interested in astrophysics and cosmology. During the 1950s, he began to concentrate on theoretical astrophysics, and he and a colleague proposed a search for radio signals emanating from extraterrestrial beings. He moved on to M.I.T. in 1964, where he authored and co-authored several books and studies on arms control. He later became involved in television and film, co-writing and narrating the 1977 film "Powers of Ten," which was later turned into a book, and hosting a six-part PBS miniseries called "The Ring of Truth." Morrison was also a book-review editor for Scientific American magazine.

Morrison died April 22, 2005, at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from respiratory failure. He was professor emeritus at M.I.T. and is survived by a stepson.