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Election Year: 1939
Scientific Discipline: Chemistry
Membership Type: Member
Chemist George Kistiakowsky made contributions to organic and theoretical chemistry and was a trusted and valued policy advisor to several presidents of the United States. In January 1944 he joined the Manhattan Project and headed the Implosion Department. There he helped develop the lenses that allowed the plutonium sphere to reach critical mass, crucial for the development of the first atomic weapons. He spent the remainder of his career teaching at Harvard University and serving as an advisor to the U.S. government on foreign policy and arms regulation, advocating for peaceful intervention on the world stage.
Kistiakowsky attended private school in Russia until the Russian Revolution started in 1917. He served in the anti-Communist White Army until captured by the Bolsheviks. He was able to escape to Germany and pursue his doctorate at the University of Berlin. Kistiakowsky earned his PhD in physical chemistry in 1925 and immigrated to the United States in 1926. He taught at Princeton for two years and then accepted a position at Harvard, where he was a professor of chemistry. After World War II and his time on the Manhattan project, he returned to Harvard, heading the chemistry department from 1947 to 1950 and serving on many government committees. He was a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee from 1957 and 1964 and a special assistant to the president for science and technology from 1959 to 1961. He also chaired the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy from 1962 to 1965. In his peacekeeping efforts, Kistiakowsky was a part of the 1958 U.S. delegation to Geneva, where the United States and the U.S.S.R discussed nuclear disarmament. He was also an active member of the Council for a Livable World. He retired from Harvard in 1972.