Dr. Lloyd Quarterman was one of six African American nuclear scientists involved in the production of the atomic bomb in 1945. He worked with two of the most illustrious scientific minds of the twentieth century – Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi.
Dr. Quarterman worked at two of the major laboratories concerned with nuclear research, located at Columbia University in New York City and at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois.
While he was at Columbia University, he worked with many of the world’s leading scientists, including Einstein. He was also involved in the top-secret Manhattan Project, which was aimed at developing an atomic bomb. When the Manhattan project was officially closed, Quarterman received a certificate of recognition for “work essential to the production of the Atomic Bomb, thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of World War II.”
After the war, the hitherto secret facility at the University of Chicago officially became the Argonne National Laboratories. It was at Argonne that Quarterman worked with Enrico Fermi, where he recalls: “We split the atom in the East. We were working there on the Atomic Bomb. But the world’s first nuclear reactor, which used the atomic splitting process in a peaceful way, was set up here in Chicago. It was under an Italian scientist, Enrico Fermi… I did all my quantum mechanics under him.”
Argonne was the centre for the design and development of nuclear reactors. Quarterman worked as a member of a team of scientists, contributing to the first full-scale use of controlled nuclear energy. At Argonne, they made the first reactor for Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine.
Not contented to rest on his laurels, Quarterman augmented his knowledge of chemistry and physics and also worked as a fluoride chemist. Working with a team that “led the world in fluoride chemistry,” they created new compounds or, as he puts it, “invent[ed] molecules” from the reaction of fluorine atoms with “noble” gases (so called because they stood on their own) – xenon, argon and krypton.
Quarterman was also involved in spectroscopy. He devised a corrosive-resistant “diamond window” to observe the complex molecular structure of hydrogen fluoride, the world’s most powerful solvent. Modestly, he chose not to call it an invention, but “a first discovery trial.”
He had also given some serious thought to “synthetic blood” but he stated that “[his] process never got off the ground… [as he] ran into socio-political problems.”
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