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Albert Ghiorso dies at 95; engineer played crucial role in discovery of 12 elements

He designed many of the accelerators and detectors that made it possible to produce and identify the heavy, short-lived radioactive elements beyond uranium, the heaviest found in nature.

Berkeley researcher Albert Ghiorso co-discovered 12 
chemical elements,… (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab)

January 16, 2011|By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times

Albert Ghiorso, a Berkeley engineer who played a crucial role in the discovery of 12 elements, more than any other scientist, died Dec. 26 at his home near the UC Berkeley campus. He was 95 and died of heart failure after a minor fall near his home.

A talented engineer, Ghiorso designed many of the accelerators and detectors that made it possible to produce and identify the heavy, short-lived radioactive elements beyond uranium, the heaviest found in nature.

Ghiorso initially worked under physicist Glenn Seaborg on World War II's Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, then at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. But eventually he came to be seen as Seaborg's equal in many ways.

"It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Ghiorso's work on the field of nuclear science and nuclear chemistry in particular," said physicist Peter Armbruster, co-discoverer of elements 107 to 112 at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, which relied on techniques developed by Ghiorso. "Anyone familiar with the details of the challenges will appreciate the critical value of Ghiorso's brilliant experimental mind and his resourcefulness in solving the problems."

Ghiorso was born in Vallejo, Calif., on July 15, 1915, and grew up in Alameda, where he built radio circuitry and developed a reputation for making long-distance radio contacts. After receiving his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1937, he went to work for a small firm called Cyclotron Specialties Co. in Moraga, where he built the first commercial Geiger counter.

When the war broke out, Ghiorso decided to seek a commission in the Navy and asked for a reference from Seaborg, whom he had met at Berkeley. Instead, Seaborg invited him to join a secret project at the University of Chicago, which turned out to be part of the Manhattan Project. Seaborg's team had secretly discovered plutonium, element No. 94, and Ghiorso helped develop instruments and techniques to purify it.

In 1944, Seaborg decided to extend the search to higher atomic numbers, asking chemists Ralph A. James and Leon O. Morgan to irradiate plutonium and send the samples to Chicago for Ghiorso to analyze. By identifying characteristic alpha-particle emissions, Ghiorso found curium, element 96, and americium, element 95.

After the war, the team returned to Berkeley, where Ghiorso developed new, more sensitive detectors to isolate and characterize the newly created elements. In December 1949, the team found element 97, berkelium, and in February 1950, element 98, californium.

Ghiorso described the discovery of the next two elements as "absolutely unexpected and out of the blue." In November 1952, a large thermonuclear explosion was set off on Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific. Scientists measured an unexpectedly high neutron flux from the explosion, and Ghiorso suspected that meant new elements had been created.

He persuaded the team to acquire paper filters from airplanes that had flown through the radiation cloud. Within a few days, they had found einsteinium, element 99. In January 1953, they found fermium, element 100, that had been deposited in coral by fallout from the test.

In February 1955, the team created mendelevium, element 101, by bombarding einsteinium in the Berkeley cyclotron. The element was so short-lived that extraction of the element from the foil target was performed in the back seat of Ghiorso's Volkswagen as he sped up the hill from the cyclotron to his laboratory.

Producing heavier elements required a larger accelerator, so Ghiorso and his colleagues designed the Heavy Ion Linear Accelerator (HILAC), which began operating in October 1957. Using it, they found nobelium, element 102, in 1958; lawrencium, element 103, in 1961; rutherfordium, element 104, in 1969; dubnium (also known as hahnium), element 105, in 1970; and seaborgium, element 106, in 1974. Ghiorso was named director of the HILAC in 1969.

To reach higher elements, Ghiorso designed an accelerator called the Omnitron that would have accelerated all elements up to uranium to high energies. Funding for the accelerator was blocked by the Vietnam War, however, and the discovery of new elements shifted to Europe and Russia.

Ghiorso also invented the Bevelac, which combined the HILAC and the Bevatron to accelerate heavy particles to velocities close to the speed of light for research in high-energy physics, nuclear chemistry, biology and medicine.

Ghiorso was preceded in death by his wife, the former Wilma Belt. He is survived by a son, William, who is an engineer at the Berkeley lab, and a daughter, Kristine Pixton of Vestal, N.Y.

A scientist who was truly in his element making discoveries

January 21, 2011


  • A scientist who was truly in his element making discoveries
    Jan 21, 2011 – After receiving his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1937, he worked for Cyclotron Specialties and built the first ...











“He got permission from Ernest Lawrence to use the name “Cyclotron”. This company made test instruments for the atomic bomb and parts for the bomb. The Geiger counter was built in Moraga.  Ernest Lawrence came to the Tibbetts house several times.  Reginald Tibbetts also knew Glen Seaborg, Kennedy, and Salsburg.  Many of the parts for the bomb and the Geiger counter were made by individuals then sent to Moraga and Reginald Tibbetts helped to assemble them. All the parts for the Geiger counter were bought in the San Francisco Bay Area in small amounts so it would not be suspicious and paid for in cash.  Reginald described how he use to go shopping for parts with $20,000.00 cash in his pocket.”



From: Ed Sharpe []
Sent: Tuesday, August 25, 2015 10:57 PM


Good Guy Spy from Moraga's Past
Reginald Tibbetts, in 1942 with his electronic gear. Original photo by Clyde H. Sunderland, Oakland. (This photo also appears on page 84 of the book "Images of America: Port Chicago" by Dean L. McLeod and page 92 of "Images of America: San Francisco in WW II" by John Garvey.) Photos courtesy Moraga Historical Society

A 76-year-old home sits on the outskirts of Moraga. Grape leaves blossom in its vineyard and the landscaped grounds are a visual treat, but equally important is what is missing. 
 Gone today is the radio tower used by its original owner. Gone is the underground gasoline tank, the World War II victory garden and the blackout curtains over its windows. Gone is the office and shop housing engineering research and development important to the Allied cause. Gone, too, is an Eagle Scout and Orinda Scoutmaster, amateur radio operator, UC Berkeley electrical engineering graduate, third generation Californian, 57-year Moraga resident, father, former postmaster - all one and the same man - the reclusive D. Reginald Tibbetts. 
 Elsie Mastick called Tibbetts "our Moraga spy." Mastick, a Moraga Historical Society member, was friends with Tibbetts' daughter. "He broke the code," Mastic said proudly of Tibbetts' work intercepting and deciphering Japanese transcripts as the two countries moved toward war. 
 Records show that Tibbetts purchased an 8-acre parcel in Moraga in 1936 and had built his house by 1939. A licensed amateur radio operator, call sign W6ITH, Tibbetts also built a radio tower on site. "It was magnificent," John LaRue of RedStone Products said admiringly of the "very first class" high frequency radio gear and large log periodic satellite antenna Tibbetts had assembled on site. LaRue, who visited the Moraga acreage, said Tibbetts was one of the first to own a large residential receive-only microwave dish. 
 At the time, the Federal Communications Commission required satellite dishes to be licensed. Barbara Tibbetts Workinger became an amateur radio operator at her father's urging, but she has since let her license lapse. Although she remembers a family victory garden filled with tomatoes, it is unclear whether as a child Workinger understood the importance of her father's work. She did remember "all these famous men" her father knew, including Glenn Seaborg (Atomic Energy Commission chairman throughout the 1960s) and her godfather Ernest Lawrence lounging around her family's pool. 
 It was no mere coincidence that Tibbetts was appointed postmaster of Moraga during World War II. It was a move that facilitated the clandestine shipment of equipment he needed to complete his war work - part of which was the development of a Geiger counter used in the early development of the atomic bomb. 
 Tibbetts was just plain "Reggie" to Ernest Lawrence, said his son Robert Lawrence, MD. The younger Lawrence remembers visiting Tibbetts' Moraga home with his father "several times a year" as a teen in the mid-1950s. Father and son saw the Tibbetts' radio room filled with shortwave radio equipment and clocks set for time zones around the world. 
 Ernest Lawrence was "a big radio nut," his son explained, having built an entire station while attending the University of South Dakota. "We'd go out several times a year [to Moraga]," the younger Lawrence said. He thought Tibbetts was "very rich," based on the "neat things and toys" around the home, including Lawrence's favorite, a motorized electric jeep Tibbetts built for kids. Ernest Lawrence even listened in on an August 1945 shortwave radio communication Tibbetts held with an amateur radio operator in Japan. The resulting nuclear electromagnetic pulse cut off their communications at the precise moment the bomb went off. 
 "He [Tibbetts] looked at his watch," Robert Lawrence said, "and marked the time." 
 Moraga resident Steve Mazaika, whose grandmother lived near the Tibbetts home, said, "I was kinda scared of the guy" growing up. Tibbetts "wasn't that friendly," Mazaika said. But when it came to electronics and phones, he was very knowledgeable, and had the ability to "call around the world [toll free]" at a time when it was rather costly to do so. Communications from the South Pacific during World War II went through him directly to the Pentagon, Mazaika said. 
 A Moraga firefighter for 38 years, Mazaika was sent on medical calls to Tibbetts' home before he died in Moraga on Nov. 24, 1996. Tibbetts was 85.

Tibbetts family, Christmas circa 1954 at the Reef Hotel in Honolulu. "My father rented the penthouse suite," said Workinger. "It was very fancy." From left: Jon Tibbetts, Barbara Tibbetts Workinger, their mother Louise Tibbetts and Reginald Tibbetts











 We have one of these  but or handle is missing.
Sylvania Model U-235 Radio-GM

Sylvania Model U-235 Radio-GM Combo (ca. 1955-1960)

The Model U-235 "Prospector" was manufactured by the Sylvania Company of Buffalo New York between 1956 and 1960. It is something of a novelty item: a combination radio and GM detector. It even has a compass and sundial (photo to right)! I can't imagine that this is something that a real prospector would take seriously, but there is no denying that it sure is neat. 

To operate the Geiger counter, you charge it by pushing the black button on the top of the unit (upper right in top photo). The detector output is indicated by a flashing neon light located next to the button. 

Detector:  VG18 glass-walled located on inside bottom of the case, See the detector window in photo to left.

Size:  ca. 3” x  10” x  6 1/2”

Batteries:  two 1 1/2 volt "A" batteries, one 90 volt "B" battery. Can also operate from a 110 volt AC-DC supply.


Sam's Photofact for Sylvania Model 3401 (Ch. 1-612-1)

Kindly donated by Bob Lewis.

Visit Oak Ridge      Survey Instruments



Title: Geiger Counter
Description: Electron & Nuclear Counter, Model #ARA35-1, Type DW-51. Manufactured by Cyclotron Specialties Company. Additional information would be appreciated. Object ID: USGS-000262
Location: USA
Photographer: USGS Museum Staff, , U.S. Geological Survey

SMECC and USGS are both looking for more information on this unit.

Drop me a line at --Ed


Instrumentation Between Science, State and Industry - Google Books Result

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