Edward Condon

Edward Condon

Overview
Edward Uhler Condon was a distinguished American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 nuclear physicist, a pioneer in quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, and a participant in the development of radar
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 and nuclear weapons during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

He was born on March 2, 1902, in Alamogordo, New Mexico
Alamogordo, New Mexico
Alamogordo is the county seat of Otero County and a city in south-central New Mexico, United States. A desert community lying in the Tularosa Basin, it is bordered on the east by the Sacramento Mountains. It is the nearest city to Holloman Air Force Base. The population was 35,582 as of the 2000...

, where his father was supervising the construction of a narrow-gauge railroad. He was raised a Quaker. After graduating from high school in Oakland, California, in 1918, he worked as a journalist for three years at the Oakland Inquirer and other papers.
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Encyclopedia
Edward Uhler Condon was a distinguished American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 nuclear physicist, a pioneer in quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, and a participant in the development of radar
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 and nuclear weapons during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

Early life and career


He was born on March 2, 1902, in Alamogordo, New Mexico
Alamogordo, New Mexico
Alamogordo is the county seat of Otero County and a city in south-central New Mexico, United States. A desert community lying in the Tularosa Basin, it is bordered on the east by the Sacramento Mountains. It is the nearest city to Holloman Air Force Base. The population was 35,582 as of the 2000...

, where his father was supervising the construction of a narrow-gauge railroad. He was raised a Quaker. After graduating from high school in Oakland, California, in 1918, he worked as a journalist for three years at the Oakland Inquirer and other papers. He then attended the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

, earning his bachelor's degree in three years and his doctorate in two. He studied at Göttingen and Munich and then worked in public relations at Bell Telephone Laboratories
Bell Labs
Bell Laboratories is the research and development subsidiary of the French-owned Alcatel-Lucent and previously of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company , half-owned through its Western Electric manufacturing subsidiary.Bell Laboratories operates its...

.

He taught briefly at Columbia University and was associate professor of physics at Princeton from 1928 to 1937, except for a year at the University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. It is the oldest and largest part of the University of Minnesota system and has the fourth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 52,557...

. With Philip M. Morse, he wrote Quantum Mechanics, the first English-language text on the subject in 1929. With G.H. Shortley, he wrote the Theory of Atomic Spectra, "a bible on the subject from the moment of its 1935 publication."

He was associate director of research at the Westinghouse Electric Company
Westinghouse Electric Company
Westinghouse Electric Company LLC is a nuclear power company, offering a wide range of nuclear products and services to utilities throughout the world, including nuclear fuel, service and maintenance, instrumentation and control and advanced nuclear plant designs...

 in Pittsburgh, beginning in 1937, where he established research programs in nuclear physics, solid state physics, and mass spectroscopy. He then headed the company's research on microwave radar development. He also worked on the equipment used to isolate uranium for use in atomic bombs. He served as a consultant to the National Defense Research Committee during World War II and helped organize MIT
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

's Radiation Laboratory.

In 1943, Condon joined the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

. Within six weeks, he resigned as a result of conflicts about security with General Leslie R. Groves
Leslie Groves
Lieutenant General Leslie Richard Groves, Jr. was a United States Army Corps of Engineers officer who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon and directed the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II. As the son of a United States Army chaplain, Groves lived at a...

, the project's military leader, who had objected when Condon's superior J. Robert Oppenheimer held a discussion with the director of the project's Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago. In his resignation letter he explained: "The thing which upsets me the most is the extraordinary close security policy....I do not feel qualified to question the wisdom of this since I am totally unaware of the extent of enemy espionage and sabotage activities. I only want to say that in my case I found that the extreme concern with security was morbidly depressing--especially the discussion about censoring mail and telephone calls."

From August 1943 to February 1945, Condon worked as a part-time consultant at Berkeley on the separation of U-235 and U-238.

Condon was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1944. Following the war, Condon played a leading role in organizing scientists to lobby for civilian control of atomic energy rather than military control under strict security. He worked as science adviser to Senator Brian McMahon
Brian McMahon
Brian McMahon is a Canadian rower, who was the coxswain of the Canadian men's eights team that won the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.-References:*...

, chairman of the special Senate committee on atomic energy, which wrote the McMahon-Douglas Act
Atomic Energy Act of 1946
The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 determined how the United States federal government would control and manage the nuclear technology it had jointly developed with its wartime allies...

, enacted in August 1946, that created the Atomic Energy Commission
Atomic Energy Commission
Many countries have or have had an Atomic Energy Commission. These include:* Australian Atomic Energy Commission * Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission * Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique...

, placing atomic energy under civilian control. Adopting an internationalist viewpoint, Condon favored international scientific cooperation and joined the American-Soviet Science Society.

Security problems


President Truman nominated him as director of the National Bureau of Standards in 1945. He was confirmed by the Senate without opposition and served until 1951. He was also president of the American Physical Society
American Physical Society
The American Physical Society is the world's second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the world renowned Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than 20...

 in 1946.

On May 29, 1946, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover
John Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972...

 wrote a letter intended for President Truman that named several senior government officials as part of a Soviet network. It described Condon as "nothing more or less than an espionage agent in disguise." Decades later Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick "Pat" Moynihan was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times . He declined to run for re-election in 2000...

 called it "baseless corridor talk." The Truman administration ignored Hoover's charges.

Over the next decade Condon's security clearance status was repeatedly questioned, reviewed, and re-established. Congressman J. Parnell Thomas
J. Parnell Thomas
John Parnell Thomas was a stockbroker and politician. He was elected to seven terms as a U.S. Representative from New Jersey...

, head of the House Un-American Activities Committee, furnished information to the Washington Times-Herald that denigrated his loyalty in two articles published in March 1947. Thomas shared none of the scientific community's international spirit and had other reasons, including the size of his committee's appropriation, opposition to the McMahon Act, and election year politics, to make a prominent case of Condon. The Department of Commerce cleared Condon of disloyalty charges on February 24, 1948. A HUAC report dated March 2, 1948 said that "It appears that Dr. Condon is one of the weakest links in our atomic security." Condon responded: "If it is true that I am one of the weakest links in atomic security that is very gratifying and the country can feel absolutely safe for I am completely reliable, loyal, conscientious and devoted to the interests of my country, as my whole life and career clearly reveal." Those who defended him included Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 and Harold Urey
Harold Urey
Harold Clayton Urey was an American physical chemist whose pioneering work on isotopes earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934...

. The entire physics department of Harvard and numerous professional organizations wrote Truman on Condon's behalf. The Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists held a dinner on April 12, 1948, to demonstrate support, with none Nobel Prize winners among the sponsors. The National Academy of Sciences, by contrast, considered only a statement criticizing HUAC's procedures rather than defending Condon. Despite widespread support among its members, its leadership released no statement and spoke privately with Rep. Thomas instead. On July 15, 1948, the Atomic Energy Commission gave Condon his security clearance, allowing him to accessed classified information for his work as director of the National Bureau of Standards.

In September 1948, at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association for the Advancement of Science
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization with the stated goals of promoting cooperation among scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the...

 (AAAS), U.S. President Harry Truman, with Condon sitting nearby on the dais, denounced Rep. Thomas and HUAC on the grounds that vital scientific research "may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumors, gossip and vilification." He called HUAC's activities "the most un-American thing we have to contend with today. It is the climate of a totalitarian country."

Condon opposed any cooperation with Congressional attempts to identify security risks within the scientific community. In June 1949, he wrote a sharply critical letter to Oppenheimer, who had provided information to HUAC about a colleague. In July 1949, he testified before a Senate subcommittee that was considering rules governing the operation of Senate committees. He criticized Thomas and the HUAC for leaking information obtained in closed hearings and then refused to reply to requests to testify in response to those leaks. He said that Thomas's characterization of him was a "major, serious, premeditated violation of ordinary fair play."

Finally, in 1951, with his record cleared, Condon left government to become head of research and development for the Corning Glass Works. He said his $14,000 annual government salary was his reason for the move. President Truman issued a statement of praise: "You have served in a most critical position with continued and loyal attention to your duties as director, and by reason of your standing among scientists and the supervision you have given to the bureau's activities, you have made of it a more important agency than it has ever been before." Two Republican Congressman charged that Condom was being investigated as a security risk and was leaving "under fire," a charge the Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer
Charles W. Sawyer
Charles W. Sawyer was United States Secretary of Commerce from May 6, 1948 to January 20, 1953 in the administration of Harry Truman....

 denied. On December 27, 1951, Condon was elected to head the AAAS in 1953. In September 1952, Condon, in testimony before a Congressional committee, had his first opportunity to deny under oath all charges of disloyalty that had been made against him. The HUAC concluded in its annual report for 1952 that Condon was unsuited for a security clearance because of his "propensity for associating with persons disloyal or of questionable loyalty and his contempt for necessary security regulations." On December 30, 1952, he assumed the presidency of the AAAS at its annual meeting, where, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, "The tremendous ovation by his fellow members accompanying his induction was a further affirmation of their faith in his loyalty and integrity."

Five months later Condon's clearance was revoked as was standard when someone left government service. He was granted a security clearance once more on July 12, 1954. It was announced on October 19 and then suspended by Secretary of the Navy Charles S. Thomas
Charles Thomas (Secretary of the Navy)
Charles S. Thomas was a U.S. administrator. He served as Secretary of the Navy between May 3, 1954 and April 1, 1957.Thomas was born in Independence, Missouri, attended the University of California and Cornell...

 on October 21. Vice President Nixon took credit for the suspension, and the Atomic Scientists of Chicago charged "political abuse of the national security system", though Secretary Thomas denied Nixon had played a role. Condon withdrew his application for clearance and in December resigned from Corning because the company was seeking government research contracts and he could not participate in military research. After citing the security reviews he had passed over the years, he said: "I am unwilling to continue a potentially indefinite series of reviews and re-reviews." Corning had paid Condon's clearance-related legal expenses while he worked there.

In 1958, Condon wrote that his decision reflected his belief that the Eisenhower administration "was committed by policy to the persecution of scientists, or, at the very least, to a callous indifference toward what others were doing to attack and discredit them. I decided the situation was hopeless, and that I had done all that could be reasonably expected of me in having resisted these forces for seven long years.

Years later, Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

 reported how Condon described one encounter with a loyalty review board. A board member stated his concern: "Dr. Condon, it says here that you have been at the forefront of a revolutionary movement in physics called...quantum mechanics. It strikes this hearing that if you could be at the forefront of one revolutionary movement...you could be at the forefront of another." Condon said he replied: "I believe in Archimedes' Principle, formulated in the third century B.C. I believe in Kepler's laws of planetary motion, discovered in the seventeenth century. I believe in Newton's laws...." and continued with a catalog of scientists from earlier centuries, including the Bernoulli, Fourier
Joseph Fourier
Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier was a French mathematician and physicist best known for initiating the investigation of Fourier series and their applications to problems of heat transfer and vibrations. The Fourier transform and Fourier's Law are also named in his honour...

, Ampère
André-Marie Ampère
André-Marie Ampère was a French physicist and mathematician who is generally regarded as one of the main discoverers of electromagnetism. The SI unit of measurement of electric current, the ampere, is named after him....

, Boltzmann
Ludwig Boltzmann
Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann was an Austrian physicist famous for his founding contributions in the fields of statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics...

, and Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell of Glenlair was a Scottish physicist and mathematician. His most prominent achievement was formulating classical electromagnetic theory. This united all previously unrelated observations, experiments and equations of electricity, magnetism and optics into a consistent theory...

.

He once said privately: "I join every organization that seems to have noble goals. I don't ask whether it contains Communists."

Later career


Condon was professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis is a private research university located in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. Founded in 1853, and named for George Washington, the university has students and faculty from all fifty U.S. states and more than 110 nations...

 from 1956 to 1963 and then at the University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

 from 1963, where he was also a fellow of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, until retiring in 1970.

From 1966 to 1968, Condon directed Bolder's UFO Project, known as the Condon Committee
Condon Committee
The Condon Committee was the informal name of the University of Colorado UFO Project, a group funded by the United States Air Force from 1966 to 1968 at the University of Colorado to study unidentified flying objects under the direction of physicist Edward Condon...

. He was chosen for his eminence and his lack of any stated position on UFOs. He later wrote that he agreed to head the project "on the basis of appeals to duty to do a needed public service" on the part of the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Its final report concluded that unidentified flying object
Unidentified flying object
A term originally coined by the military, an unidentified flying object is an unusual apparent anomaly in the sky that is not readily identifiable to the observer as any known object...

s had prosaic explanations. It has been cited as a key factor in the generally low levels of interest in UFOs among mainstream scientists and academics.

Condon was also president of the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1964. He was president of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science (1968-69) and was co-chairman of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (1970). He co-edited the Handbook of Physics with Hugh Odishaw of the University of Arizona. He received the Frederic Ives Medal awarded by the Optical Society in 1968. On his retirement, his colleagues honored him with the publication of a Festschrift.

He married Emilie Honzik. They had a son and a daughter. Condon died on March 26, 1974, in Boulder Colorado Community Hospital.

Atomic Structure, which Condon wrote with Halis Odabaşi, appeared several years later in 1980.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) gives an annual award named for Condon. The crater Condon
Condon (crater)
Condon is a lunar crater that lies on the eastern shore of the Sinus Successus, a bay along the northeast edge of Mare Fecunditatis. It lies midway between the larger crater Apollonius to the north and the smaller Webb to the south on the Mare Fecunditatis...

 on the Moon is named in his honor.

See also

  • Franck-Condon principle
    Franck-Condon principle
    The Franck–Condon principle is a rule in spectroscopy and quantum chemistry that explains the intensity of vibronic transitions. Vibronic transitions are the simultaneous changes in electronic and vibrational energy levels of a molecule due to the absorption or emission of a photon of the...

  • Slater-Condon rules
  • OSA
    Optical Society of America
    The Optical Society is a scientific society dedicated to advancing the study of light—optics and photonics—in theory and application, by means of publishing, organizing conferences and exhibitions, partnership with industry, and education. The organization has members in more than 100 countries...

     -Frederic Ives Medal
  • Ronald Wilfried Gurney
    Ronald Wilfried Gurney
    Ronald Wilfred Gurney was a British theoretical physicist and research pupil of William Lawrence Bragg at the Victoria University of Manchester during the 1920s and 30s, Bristol University during the 1930s and later in the USA where he died.-Radioactive decay processes:Whilst at the Palmer...

  • Quantum tunnelling
    Quantum tunnelling
    Quantum tunnelling refers to the quantum mechanical phenomenon where a particle tunnels through a barrier that it classically could not surmount. This plays an essential role in several physical phenomena, such as the nuclear fusion that occurs in main sequence stars like the sun, and has important...


Sources

  • Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (NY: Knopf, 2005)
  • Lewis M. Branscomb, "Edward U. Condon, 1902-1974", Washington University Library: Edward U. Condon, 1902-1974
  • Jerome Clark, The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial (Visible Ink, 1998), ISBN 1-57859-029-9
  • Steven J. Dick, The Biological Universe: The Twentieth Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (Yale University Press, 1998)
  • Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World
    The Demon-Haunted World
    The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is a book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan, which was first published in 1995.The book is intended to explain the scientific method to laypeople, and to encourage people to learn critical or skeptical thinking...

    : Science as a Candle in the Dark (NY: Ballantine Books, 1996), ISBN 0-345-40946-9
  • Jessica Wang, "Science, Security, and the Cold War: The Case of E. U. Condon," Isis, vol. 83, no. 2 (June 1992), 238-69
  • John Archibald Wheeler, Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics (NY: W.W. Norton, 1998)

External links