Seaborg was born April 19, 1912, in the small mining town of
Ishpeming, Michigan. His parents, Swedish immigrants, moved the
family to Los Angeles when Glenn was 10. Seaborg attended high
school in Watts with ideas of studying literature in college.
But he discovered, in his junior year, that in order to qualify
for the tuition-free University of California, he needed a lab
course. He took a chemistry class taught by an inspiring teacher
who kindles Seaborg's life-long dedication to the field.
UCLA in the Depression year 1929 and worked his way through
school by serving as a stevedore, apricot picker, and apprentice
linotype machinist. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, in his
third year. In a modern physics course, he received a second
infusion of inspiration when the professor spoke of the new
cyclotron at Berkeley and of the results being obtained there.
The excitement of these ideas sparked the young scientist to
pursue graduate work at Berkeley.
"When I came to
Berkeley," he later recalled, "it was indescribably exciting. It
had an air of magic about it, and seeing top-notch chemists
every day on campus . . . made me feel as if I were walking
among giants. I was at the center of the universe, and big
things were happening her."
It wasn't long
before Seaborg himself began to make things happen. After
earning his Ph.D. in 1937, he turned down overtures from
industry in favor of a moderately paying job as a research
assistant to Gilbert N. Lewis of Berkeley's chemistry
department. Within two years, he was making his mark in the
bright new field of nuclear chemistry: working with physicist
Jack Livingood, he discovered the radioactive isotopes
iodine-131 and iron-59. Many of the isotopes discovered in that
period and since had medical applications, but the
identification of iodine-131 meant the most to Seaborg because
treatment with that isotope helped to extend his mother's life
far beyond what it would have been without it.
In 1942, Seaborg
was called to the University of Chicago Metallurgical
Laboratory, where he and a large group of researchers developed
chemical methods necessary for producing the plutonium bomb that
shortened the war with Japan. Seaborg has said that the
development of the bomb was necessary under the circumstances,
but he was among the first to argue against its use on
After the war, he
returned to Berkeley as a full professor and was placed in
charge of nuclear chemical research at the Radiation Laboratory.
He became associate director of the lab in 1945 and was named
chancellor of the Berkeley campus in 1958. Three years later he
was nominated by President Kennedy to head the Atomic Energy
Commission, a sensitive and powerful position he filled with
distinction for 10 years.
Seaborg and his
colleagues have identified more than 100 isotopes, many of which
are essential today in medicine and research. He is
co-discoverer of plutonium and eight other transuranium
elements. For their discoveries in the chemistry of transuranium elements, Seaborg and Edwin McMillian shared the Nobel
Prize in Chemistry in 1951.
Voted Alumnus of
the Year at both his undergraduate (UCLA) and graduate (UC
Berkeley) schools, Seaborg continues to be active in scientific
research and education. He has been a leading spokesman for
scientific literacy and for improvement in secondary school
science teaching, pointing out that "the intelligent citizen can
no more ignore science in the world of today than the inhabitant
of the medieval world could ignore Christianity and the feudal
Russell. :Glenn T. Seaborg: Chemistry, 1951." The Nobel
Tradition in Berkeley:
University of California, Berkeley. UC BErkeley
Development Office: UC PRess,
1984. p. 14.