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Joseph Rotblat

(1908 - 2005)


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Joseph Rotblat, born in Warsaw in 1908, obtained his M.A. from the Free University of Poland in 1932 and a doctorate in Physics from the University of Warsaw where in 1937 he became assistant director of the Atom Physics Institute. In 1939, he started working at the University of Liverpool on the feasibility of the atom bomb with James Chadwick, whom he followed to Los Alamos to take part in the Manhattan Project. In November 1944, when it was confirmed that Nazi Germany would never manage to build the bomb, Rotblat immediately returned to England, the only scientist to quit the Manhattan Project before its devastating conclusion.

In 1946, he co-founded the Atomic Scientists Association and, in 1947, he organized "Atom Train," the first big exhibition on peaceful uses and against military applications of nuclear energy.

Rotblat obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool in 1950 and his D.Sc. from the University of London in 1953; from 1945 to 1949 he was Director of Research in Nuclear Physics at the University of Liverpool. During those years, his work on photosensitive emulsions contributed to the discovery of the pi meson. He then turned increasingly towards the biological and medical applications of nuclear physics and from 1950 to 1976 he was Professor of Physics - now Emeritus - at the University of London, at St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, and the hospital's Chief Physicist.

In 1955, Rotblat was one of the eleven signatories of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto launched by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, asking scientists of every country to meet to devise ways of avoiding nuclear war. The manifesto invited scientists around the world to ward off the danger of nuclear weapons ever being used again. The signatories also made an urgent appeal to all governments to understand that humanity had entered a new era in which conflicts would have to be settled by peaceful means. "For there can be no winners in a nuclear war," Russell and Einstein warned.

In 1957, Rotblat founded the Pugwash Conference, taking the name of the Canadian village where the first meeting was held. The conference serves as a forum for researchers devoted to abolishing nuclear weapons and finding peaceful solutions to international conflicts. Joseph Rotblat became the first Secretary General of the organization. Under his indefatigable leadership over 40 years, Pugwash has led the fight against nuclear weapons and been one of the foremost advocates of detente and disarmament.

Rotblat's activities extend far beyond Pugwash. He has dedicated his seemingly limitless energies to rouse the scientific community as well as the public to the perils of nuclear war.

In 1958, he co-founded the U.K. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He was the initiator and member of the preparatory committee and governing board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. He was a member of the Initiative Group that organized the Moscow Forum of Scientists. He was expert adviser for the 1986 Year of Peace for the United Nations. He helped establish a chair of peace studies at Bradford University. He was a participant in the U.K. and U.S.S.R. Medical Exchange Program. He was co-founder and executive vice president of the Atomic Scientists Association of Great Britain. He is largely responsible for the comprehensive reports of 1984 and 1987 of the World Health Organization on the effects of nuclear war on health and health services.

Rotblat has steadfastly challenged the various doctrines of nuclear deterrence. For all in earshot he has articulated his conviction that lasting world security can be achieved only by the elimination of nuclear weapons and eventually by general and complete disarmament.

He is the author of more than 300 publications - including 20 books - on nuclear and medical physics, radiation biology, control of nuclear weapons, disarmament, the Pugwash movement and the social responsibility of scientists. In 1995, fifty years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.


Sources: Nuclearfiles.org

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