Willard Libby

The University of Chicago

December 17, 1908 - September 8, 1980


Election Year: 1950
Scientific Discipline: Chemistry
Membership Type: Member

Physical chemist Willard Libby contributed to the development of several nuclear chemical processes. During World War II he joined the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, where he created the gaseous diffusion method of separation for the isotope of uranium that was used in the atomic bomb. In 1960 he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work with the naturally occurring isotope carbon 14. He led the team that developed radiocarbon dating, which is used to determine the age of archeological and geological specimens. He also observed that radioactive hydrogen, or tritium, could be used to date water.

Libby attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his BS degree in 1931 and his PhD in 1933. He served as an instructor of chemistry there until 1941, when he was awarded a fellowship at Princeton University. After World War II and his work on the Manhattan Project, Libby joined the faculty at the University of Chicago as a professor of chemistry. In 1954 he was appointed to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, where he implemented nuclear processes developed during the Manhattan Project. He then moved to the University of California, Los Angeles in 1959 as a professor of chemistry and also served as the director of the University of California Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics.

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