TBIMG Tidbit #4 ~ The Fathers of the Centrifuge

by Dr. Madhi Obeidi and Kurt Pitzer

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TBIMG Tidbit #4 ~ The Fathers of the Centrifuge

Unread postby Liz » Thu Jun 14, 2007 11:12 am

Jesse Beams is mentioned on page 67 and Gernot Zippe on page 75.


Jesse W. Beams 1898 - 1977

Jesse Wakefield Beams was born in Belle Plains, Kansas in 1898. He earned his bachelor's degree from Fairmont College (now Wichita State University) in 1921, and a Masters Degree in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin in 1923. After teaching math and physics for a year at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), he decided on a career in physics. He received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Virginia in 1926. Dr. Beams spent the next three years working with E. O. Lawrence, who was later to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. They performed experiments relevant to the quantized nature of light, and then spent a year in Europe conducting further studies. Beams then returned to the University of Virginia, where he remained on the faculty until his death in 1977.

Dr. Beams's contributions include construction of the first linear electron accelerator, development of the magnetic ultracentrifuge and application of the ultracentrifuge to the separation of Uranium isotopes. He was chairman of the Physics Department from 1948 to 1962 and president of the American Physical Society from 1958 to 1959. From then, early 1960 until his death in 1977, he collaborated with Dr. Donald Kupke on the biological applications of his work. Dr. Beams also devised a more accurate apparatus for measuring G, the universal gravitational constant.

Beams's awards include the National Medal of Science and accompanying certificate, the Howard N. Potts Medal for distinguished work in science or the mechanical arts, and medals from the Atomic Energy Program, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the President of the United States.

Image
Dr. Beams receiving an award from President Lyndon B. Johnson.


Gernot Zippe

Gernot Zippe was born in Austria in 1918. He is the engineer responsible for leading the team which developed the Zippe-type centrifuge, a machine for the collection of Uranium-235.

Zippe studied physics at the University of Vienna in the 1930s. During World War II he served in the Luftwaffe. In 1945, at the end of the war, he was captured by the Russians. He was taken, with other technically skilled prisoners, to a special camp, where he led a team that worked on centrifuge research for the Soviet Union. He was not allowed to leave until 1956, when he returned to Vienna.

When he visited a 1957 conference on centrifuge research in Amsterdam, he realized the rest of the world was far behind what his team had been able to achieve. After release from the Soviet Union, his notes were confiscated. Nevertheless, he was able to recreate the centrifuge at the University of Virginia. The United States government tried to recruit him for secret nuclear research, going so far as to ask him to change his citizenship; but he refused and returned to Europe.

Working in industry in the 1960s, he was able to improve the efficiency of the centrifuge. He enjoyed flying and flew planes until he was 80 years old.

His invention made it cheaper to build nuclear reactors, and nuclear weapons, which increased the risk of nuclear proliferation. When asked if he has any regrets, he responds, "With a kitchen knife you can peel a potato or kill your neighbor, it's up to governments to use the centrifuge for the benefit of mankind."



NPR’s A History of the Centrifuge talks about centrifuges, Jesse Beams and Gernot Zippe. (It's a short one):

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4857123


Sources:

NPR
University of Virginia
Wikipedia


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Unread postby Linda Lee » Thu Jun 14, 2007 11:30 am

Very interesting tidbit,I like the comparison to a kitchen knife.
Thanks,Liz.
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Unread postby gemini » Thu Jun 14, 2007 11:52 am

It is interesting to read about how scientist were brought to different countries to aid in the nuclear race. This reminds me of the movie I saw " Fat Man and Little Boy" about the rush to develop the atomic bomb here in the US before the end of WWII. It had Paul Newman and John Cusack in it. It shows boths side of the story and deals a bit with the ethics of what they were doing. Pretty good movie.
Like Linda Lee, I find the comparison of the kitchen knife interesting but not quite the same. They do both have a good or bad use but one kills one person at a time while the other thousands.
Thanks for the interesting tidbit.
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Unread postby Liz » Thu Jun 14, 2007 1:17 pm

I think the kitchen knife comparison is a good one. I agree with you, Gemini, that the knife kills one, but the bomb kills many. But I think I’d be hard pressed to find a comparison that kills so many.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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