Norris Bradbury (1909 - 1997)
Bradbury, born May 30, 1909, in Santa Barbara, California, earned a doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, for work on the mobility of ions in gases. He spent two years as a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then joined the faculty at Stanford University to teach physics. During the 1930s, he established a reputation as an expert on the conduction of electricity in gases, properties of ions, and atmospheric electricity.
During the Manhattan Project, Bradbury, then a Navy commander, was in charge of assembling the non-nuclear components for the world’s first nuclear explosion at Trinity Site in southern New Mexico in 1945.
As for the moral implications of using the weapon, he once told The Associated Press that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “probably saved a million to 2 million lives. An invasion of Japan would have probably resulted in the loss of many more lives.”
After the war’s end, Bradbury, like many of his fellow scientists, wanted to leave the remote Pajarito Plateau - in his case, to return to Stanford University in California to teach physics.
Oppenheimer hand-picked Bradbury to succeed him when Oppenheimer was preparing to leave Los Alamos at the end of the Manhattan Project. He agreed to serve as director for six months, but ultimately stayed 25 years, the longest tenure of any of the lab’s directors.
Bradbury stopped the hemorrhage of talent out of Los Alamos and then helped convince the nation to maintain and expand its nuclear expertise, guiding the lab as it developed nuclear and conventional weapons in the key years of the Cold War.
The Atomic Energy Commission presented Bradbury with its highest honor, the Enrico Fermi Award, in 1970. Norris Bradbury died on August 20, 1997