Robert Cornog's 100th Birthday
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Author:  beamjockey [ Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Robert Cornog's 100th Birthday

7 July 2012 will mark 100 years since the birth of , physicist and engineer.

With Luis Alvarez, he discovered that tritium (the hydrogen-3 nucleus) is radioactive, and that helium-3 occurs in nature. He was an early recruit to the Manhattan Project, working with Robert R. Wilson and Richard Feynman on isotope separation at Princeton, then packing up and moving to Los Alamos for the duration of World War II.

As I like to say, Cornog met Robert Heinlein before Cornog was a physicist and before Heinlein was a writer. Though their ages were five years apart, they discovered that they shared a birthday. They also shared a passion for science, technology, science fiction, and spaceflight that fueled a close friendship.

Cornog's influence on Heinlein's stories should not be overstated, but it was significant. Heinlein bragged to John Campbell about having a friend involved in cyclotron research. And he surely knew what it meant when Cornog wrote that he was disappearing into "a deep, dark void:" someone was building a uranium weapon. After the war, Heinlein sometimes asked Cornog to comment on drafts of stories or scientific questions in his SF. Stranger in a Strange Land is dedicated to three people, one of whom is Cornog.

Cornog eventually worked in the emerging aerospace industry of 1950s California. When the U.S. made its first attempt to launch a rocket to the Moon, Cornog was involved. Later he specialized in high-vacuum systems. He died in 1998.

Here's a 1992 video interview with Bob Cornog:

Some years ago, I wrote an article about Cornog and Heinlein for Eric Picholle's book on Heinlein and nuclear weapons. If you'd like to see this chapter, let me know and I'll send you a PDF.

Happy 100th, Dr. Cornog.

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