Robert Bacher

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Robert Bacher
Robert F. Bacher.jpg
Born (1905-08-31)August 31, 1905
Loudonville, Ohio
Died November 18, 2004(2004-11-18) (aged 99)
Montecito, California
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Michigan
Known for Manhattan Project
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Institutions Cornell University, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Robert Fox Bacher (August 31, 1905 – November 18, 2004) was an American nuclear physicist and one of the leaders of the Manhattan Project.

Early life and career

Bacher was born in Loudonville, Ohio, and obtained his undergraduate degree and doctorate from the University of Michigan. He arrived at Cornell University as a physics instructor in 1935 and was a full professor when he left in 1949.[1]

The atomic bomb

Bacher was one of hundreds of scientists recruited by the United States government's Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 1940s. Bacher headed the project's physics division. On the day the bomb was to be test detonated in the New Mexico desert, Bacher assembled the plutonium core in an old farmhouse near the Alamogordo testing site. During this, the central portion wedged tightly and would go no further, causing a moment's panic, but Bacher managed to dislodge the jam after some nerve-wracking minutes, and transported the bomb to the testing site.[2]

Following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Bacher developed mixed feelings about his participation in the Manhattan Project. While he felt satisfaction in helping to end the war, the remorse at helping to pioneer such destructive technology haunted him.[2]

Post-World War II

In 1946 he became director of Cornell's Laboratory of Nuclear Studies. At the same time he began a three-year service on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, in which role he testified before Congress on what he viewed as a deterioration in the nation's nuclear weapons program. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1953.[3]

In 1954, after Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer was falsely accused of having communist ties, Bacher became one of his staunchest supporters. Bacher also served on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and to several top government panels throughout the 1950s.[2]

Bacher was a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) chaired by James Rhyne Killian in 1958. He became a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology in 1949, also chairing the division of physics, mathematics and astronomy from 1949 to 1962, when he was appointed as vice president and provost. He stepped down from the post of provost in 1970, and became a professor emeritus in 1976.


Bacher died at a retirement home in Montecito, California. He was survived by a daughter, Martha Bacher Eaton, and a son, Andrew Dow Bacher, who is a nuclear physicist.[2]


  1. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 The Week; December 3, 2004
  3. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.

External links