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Roger Hildebrand, U. of C. physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, dies at 98 via Hyde Park Herald

Roger Hildebrand, who worked on the Manhattan Project as a teenager before becoming a particle physicist and astronomer at the University of Chicago, died on Jan. 21 in Lexington, Massachusetts. Hildebrand, who lived in Hyde Park for more than 65 years, was 98.  


Any aspirations toward chemistry were abruptly redirected, however, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Five days later, coming out of his last exam of the quarter, Hildebrand felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Ernest Lawrence, a nuclear scientist at Berkeley and inventor of the cyclotron, one of the earliest particle accelerators. Lawrence, who had won the Nobel Prize in 1939, had become involved with the precursor to the Manhattan Project, the government initiative to research and develop nuclear weapons during World War II. 


Hildebrand later learned that he was making samples of neptunium and plutonium; he would go on to work with mass spectrometers at Berkeley and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the location of one of the Manhattan Project plants. 

“What I remember him saying is that he thought as terrible as it was, the bombs that came out of (the Manhattan Project) ended the war faster and saved lives,” his daughter, Kate Hildebrand, said. “I think he had made peace with himself around that.” 

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