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Edward Condon

AKA Edward Uhler Condon

Born: 2-Mar-1902
Birthplace: Alamogordo, NM
Died: 26-Mar-1974
Location of death: Boulder, CO
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered)

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist, Activist
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Quantum Mechanics

Physicist Edward Condon built on James Franck's theory of molecular transitions, developing the Franck-Condon principle, that electronic transitions occur so rapidly that approximate stability in the position and momentum of nuclei can be assumed. With Philip Morse he wrote Quantum Mechanics (1929), the first English-language book on the subject. He proposed quantum tunneling as an explanation of alpha particle emission, and conducted important research into proton-proton scattering. In projects funded by Westinghouse and the Department of Defense, he researched nuclear physics, solid-state physics, mass spectroscopy, and microwave radar. In 1943 Condon was briefly appointed to the Manhattan Project as assistant director under Robert Oppenheimer, but within months he was forced to resign by General Leslie R. Groves. In the late 1960s he headed an exhaustive investigation into unidentified flying objects, culminating in what is called the Condon Report, generally debunking the phenomenon.

He is best known, however, for often-repeated but never substantiated accusations of Cold War-era Soviet sympathies. In 1948, Congressman J. Parnell Thomas, chair of the Un-American Activities Committee, called Condon "one of the weakest links in our atomic security". Rep Thomas's motivations were, apparently, entirely political -- he wanted the military to control atomic energy, while Condon had outspokenly called for such technology to be under civilian control. Thomas's most serious accusation against Condon was that he was a member of the American-Soviet Science Society. It was true, and it sounded almost treasonous while the USSR was America's most feared enemy, but the group had been founded -- and Condon had joined -- during World War II, when the Soviet Union was America's ally. An unabashed liberal, he was an ardent advocate of civil liberties and ending the arms race, and a supporter of international cooperation in science.

Condon's public supporters included Albert Einstein, numerous other Nobel laureates, and eventually, after months of silence, President Harry S. Truman stood by him as well. Beyond smearing Condon, the HUAC controversy and three further inquests into Condon's security clearance yielded nothing, and he was completely exonerated each time. But even after his chief accuser, Rep Thomas, was convicted and imprisoned for unrelated corruption, the accusations always hung over Condon's head. His security clearance was revoked yet again in 1954, and Richard M. Nixon implied that as Vice President he had requested the revocation. After this, Condon said he was "unwilling to continue a potentially indefinite series of reviews and re-reviews." He quit all research involving security clearances, and returned to a quiet career in academia.

Father: William Edward Condon (railroad worker)
Mother: Carolyn Uhler Condon
Wife: Emilie Honzik Condon (b. 25-May-1889, m. 1922, d. 24-Oct-1974)
Daughter: Marie Condon ("Madi")

    University: PhD, UC Berkeley (1926)
    Teacher: Quantum Mechanics, Columbia University
    Teacher: Physics, Princeton University (1928-37)
    Teacher: Theoretical Physics, University of Minnesota (1929-30)
    Teacher: Physics, University of Pennsylvania (1955)
    Professor: Physics, Washington University in St. Louis (1956-63)
    Professor: Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder (1963-72)

    Corning Research Director (1951-54)
    National Institute of Standards and Technology Director (1945-51)
    Westinghouse Research Director (1940-43)
    Westinghouse Associate Research Director (1937-40)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Association for the Advancement of Science President (1953)
    American Philosophical Society
    American Physical Society President (1946)
    Institute of Radio Engineers
    IEEE
    National Academy of Sciences 1944
    Manhattan Project 1943
    HUAC Hearings

Author of books:
Curiosities of Mathematics (1925)
Quantum Mechanics (1929, with Philip Morse)
Theory of Atomic Spectra (1935, with George Shortley)
Handbook of Physics (1958)
Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (1969)


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