Birthday: September 18, 1907
Died At Age: 83
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: Edwin Mattison McMillan
Born in: Redondo Beach, California
Famous as: Physicist
Spouse/Ex-: Elsie Walford Blumer
father: Dr. Edwin Harbaugh McMillan
mother: Anne Marie Mattison
children: Ann Bradford, David Mattison, Stephen Walker
Died on: September 7, 1991
place of death: El Cerrito, California
U.S. State: California
education: California Institute of Technology, Princeton University
awards: Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1951)
Atoms for Peace Award (1963)
National Medal of Science (1990)
Who was Edwin McMillan?
Edwin Mattison McMillan was an American nuclear physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 for discovering the chemistry behind trans-uranium elements and ‘element 93’ also called ‘Neptunium’ which was heavier than uranium. He shared the prize with another nuclear physicist, Glenn T. Seaborg. The discovery of ‘Neptunium’ and other trans-uranium elements later provided a great source of nuclear energy and enhanced the study of nuclear theory and chemistry. He also discovered another trans-uranium element called ‘element 94’ or ‘Plutonium’ with help from Arthur C. Wahl, Joseph W. Kennedy and Glenn T. Seaborg. These discoveries could be announced only after the World War II due to reasons of national security. He was the first person to suggest the idea of ‘phase-stability’ which led to the development of the ‘synchroton’ and ‘syncro-cyclotron’ machines. These machines were later used to increase the energies of particles that were accelerated artificially in the machines by hundreds of MeV. The ‘cyclotron’ machine invented by Ernest Lawrence had reached its limit as the atomic particles accelerated in an ever-widening spiral could not attain a velocity beyond a certain point and went out of synchronization with respect to the electrical pulses. McMillan found out a way of maintaining the synchronization for indefinite speeds in a machine co-invented with Vladimir Veksler and named it ‘synchro-cyclotron’.
Childhood & Early Life
Edwin M. McMillan was born in Redondo Beach, California on September 18, 1907. His father, Dr. Edwin Harbaugh McMillan was a physician and his mother was Anne Marie Mattison. His parents were Scottish and hailed from the State of Maryland.
He had a younger sister named Catherine Helen.
His father-in-law was George Blumer, the dean of the medical school at Yale while his sister-in-law, Molly Blumer was married to Ernest Lawrence, namesake of the ‘Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’.
His family moved to Pasadena, California, from Maryland in October 1908 where he spent most of his childhood. He did his initial schooling at the ‘McKinley Elementary School’ from 1913 to 1918, at the ‘Grant School’ from 1918 to 1920 and then at the ‘Pasadena High School’ from where he graduated in 1924.
He did his B.Sc. in physics in 1928 from the ‘California Institute of Technology’ where he had done a research project with Linus Pauling.
He pursued his M.Sc. from the ‘California Institute of Technology’ in 1929 where did another research project ‘An improved method for the determination of the radium content of rocks’ which was not published.
He received his PhD in philosophy from the ‘Princeton University’ in 1933. The subject of his thesis for PhD was on the measurement of the magnetic moment of a proton in a molecular beam.
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In 1932, Edwin McMillan joined the University of California, Berkeley as a ‘National Research Fellow’ before completing his PhD and taught physics while he was there.
He started research work under Ernest O. Lawrence at the ‘Radiation Laboratory’ of the ‘University of California’ as a Staff Member at Berkeley in 1934. He helped to design cyclotrons and other equipment.
In 1935 he joined the faculty of the ‘Department of Physics’ at the ‘University of California’ at Berkeley as an instructor and became an Assistant Professor in 1936, and an Associate Professor in 1941.
In 1940 McMillan worked with Phillip Abelson to create a new element named ‘element 93’ which was the first trans-uranium element ever produced by bombarding Uranium-235 with neutrons and called it ‘Neptunium’.
In February 1941 he was helped by Joseph W. Kennedy, Glenn Seaborg and Arthur Wahl in isolating another trans-uranium element called ‘element 94’ which was named ‘Plutonium’ after McMillan’s practice of calling these elements by the names of planets.
During the Second World War he took leave from the university and worked at the ‘Radiation Laboratory’ at MIT on radar research and then moved to the ‘U. S. Navy Radio and Sound Laboratory’ in San Diego from 1941 to 1942 where he worked on sonar.
In November 1942 he moved to Los Alamos to carry out research on implosion for the ‘Manhattan Project’ which produced the first atomic bomb. He was there till 1945.
In 1945 McMillan suggested the idea of ‘phase stability’ which was used to develop the ‘synchroton’ and the ‘synchro-cyclotron’ afterwards.
He became a full professor in the faculty of the ‘University of California’ at Berkeley in 1946.
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When the Second World War ended, he moved to the ‘Berkeley Radiation Laboratory’ of the ‘University of California’ which came to be known as the ‘Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’ later. He became the Associate Director of this laboratory in 1954 and later became the Deputy Director.
He served on the board of the ‘General Advisory Committee’ for the ‘Atomic Energy Commission’ from 1954 to 1958.
He became the Director of the ‘Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’ in 1958.
In 1960 he was appointed a member of the ‘Commission on High Energy Physics’ of the ‘International Union of Pure and Applied Physics’.
He was the chairman of the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ from 1968 to 1971.
He retired from the post of Director at the ‘Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’ in 1973.
From 1974 to 1975 he worked at CERN on the measurement of the magnetic moment of ‘muon’ after his retirement.
Some of his publications include ‘Focusing in Linear Accelerators’ and ‘A Thick Target for Synchrotons and Betatrons’ that came out on August 24, 1950 and September 19, 1950 respectively.
His Nobel lecture ‘The Trans-uranium elements: Early History’ was published on December 12, 1951.
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‘Notes on Quadruple Focusing’ was published in February 9, 1956 while ‘Some Thoughts on Stability in Non-linear Periodic Focusing systems’ came out on September 5, 1967 and its addendum was published on March 29, 1968.
Awards & Achievements
Edwin M. McMillan received the ‘Research Corporation Scientific Award’ in 1950.
In 1951 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate in science by the ‘Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’ in 1961 and an honorary doctorate by the ‘Gustavus Adolphus College’ in 1863.
He received the ‘Atoms for Peace Award’ in 1963 along with Professor Vladimir I. Veksler.
He was a member of the ‘American Physical Society’, the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’, the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ and the ‘American Philosophical Society’.
He received the ‘National Medal of Science’ in 1990.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Elsie Walford Blumer on June 7, 1941.
He had one daughter, Ann Bradford and two sons, David Mattison and Stephen Walker from this marriage who were born in 1943, 1945 and 1949 respectively.
Edwin M. McMillan died on September 7, 1991 at El Cerrito, California, USA of complications arising due to diabetes.
Edwin M. McMillan was very proud of his Scottish ancestry and was even made the president of the ‘Clan MacMillan Society of North America’ in 1958.