Gregory Breit

National Medal of Science

Physical Sciences

For pioneering contributions to the theoretical understanding of nuclear structure and particle dynamics, for highly significant work in atomic and ionospheric physics, and for the inspiration he has given to several generations of American physicists.

For pioneering contributions to the theoretical understanding of nuclear structure and particle dynamics, for highly significant work in atomic and ionospheric physics, and for the inspiration he has given to several generations of American physicists.

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Birth
July 14, 1899
Age Awarded
68
Country of Birth
Ukraine
Key Contributions
Resonance Theory Of Nuclear Reactions
Particle Dynamics
Awarded by
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Education
Johns Hopkins University
Areas of Impact
Theory & Foundations
Affiliations
Yale University
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During the hydrogen bomb’s development, scientists worried the blast might be powerful enough to set off a runaway chain reaction.

Such a phenomenon could ignite a global explosion, destroying all life on Earth. Officials with the Manhattan project – America’s undercover operation to build nuclear weapons – employed Gregory Breit to ensure the atomic bomb’s obliteration wouldn’t extend beyond its intended target.

The Russian scientist was already well-versed in the physics of Earth’s atmosphere, having discovered the ionosphere earlier in his career. The atmospheric layer, located about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, contains densely-arranged ions and electrons that are capable of reflecting radio signals. Breit’s calculations eased minds, proving that a runaway reaction from the H-bomb was unlikely.

Through his research, he also co-developed the resonance theory of nuclear reactions, which states that every object has different vibration frequencies. The principle later helped the Navy develop radar and sonar to spot undersea mines.

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