Atomic friends

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Glenn Seaborg, the discoverer of plutonium, ascended to the heights of Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1961 and presided for a decade. French chemist Bertrand Goldschmidt was one of the handful of scientists who kick-started France’s slow but accelerating post-World-War-II nuclear mastery. Over the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the two nations were often closed off to each other in atomic matters, mostly suspicious, competitive and cautious.

“Dear Bert,” Seaborg writes to Goldschmidt in early 1947. “This is just a short notice to tell you how happy we were to hear from you and to learn that you are in this country again for a little while. We were delighted to learn that you are getting married.”

Yes, they were lifelong friends (there were few years over the ensuing decades when they didn’t meet up somewhere in the world) and there’s a story in how it all began. More importantly, any nuclear history needs to perceive the shared aspirations and camaraderie amongst nuclear scientists across national boundaries, even sometimes across Cold War boundaries. Something similar would arise from the 1960s amongst the global antinuclear fraternity.

The nuclear world arouses such passions, for and against, that it can at least partially eclipse, or sidle around, national boundaries.


Seaborg, Glenn T. 1947. Seaborg to Goldschmidt, Feb. 21, 1947. Folder ‘Folder 1’, Box 180, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

1 comment

  • Ah, but camaraderie amongst scientists is often based on the belief that the pursuit of knowledge has a purity that rises above mundanities such as national boundaries, and even above personal beliefs like ‘for’ or ‘against’.