Glenn Seaborg (1912 - 1999)

Glenn Seaborg
Glenn Seaborg

Glenn Seaborg was born in Michigan on April 19, 1912, and earned his Ph.D. at Berkeley in chemistry in 1937. He is best known for discovering the element plutonium with Edwin McMillan, in February 1941. In 1939, Dr. Seaborg was appointed an instructor in chemistry at Berkeley, where he was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1941, and to Professor of Chemistry in 1945. In 1946, he also took responsibility for directing nuclear chemical research at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, operated for the Atomic Energy Commission by the University of California. In 1942, he married Helen Griggs, then secretary to Ernest O. Lawrence.

Seaborg was given a leave of absence from Berkeley from 1942-1946, during which period he headed the plutonium work of the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. He led the team that was responsible for devising the chemical process for the separation, concentration and isolation of plutonium. This process was used at the pilot plant, the Clinton Engineer Works, at the Oakridge site and the production Plant at Hanford.

Seaborg is best known for discovering in February 1941, along with Edwin McMillan, the element plutonium and all further transuranium elements through element 102. He and his colleagues are also responsible for the identification of more than 100 isotopes of elements throughout the Periodic Table. He is also author of the actinide concept of heavy element electronic structure, which demonstrated how the heavy elements fit into the Periodic Table and thus demonstrated their relationships to the other elements. He and McMillan shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research into transuranic elements.

From 1954 to 1961, he was Associate Director of LRL, and in that same year he was appointed by President Truman to be a member of the AEC's first General Advisory Committee, a post he held until 1950. In 1958, he was appointed Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, in which capacity he served until his appointment by President Kennedy to the AEC in 1961, when he was designated Chairman of the Commission. From 1959 to 1961, he was also a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee. He served as Chairman of the AEC until 1971, campaigning for the peaceful use of atomic energy and against the testing of nuclear weapons.

Seaborg and his colleagues were able to create 9 other new transuranic elements (americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium, and element 106). In August 1997, element 106 was named in his honor, seaborgium (Sg). This was the first time that an element was named for a living person. He died on February 25, 1999.