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Robert F. Christy, Caltech physicist and Manhattan Project veteran, dies (video)

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Robert F. Christy, who helped design the original trigger mechanism for the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, has died. The longtime professor at Pasadena's California Institute of Technology was 96 years old and was one of the last people alive to have worked on the Manhattan Project; he died Wednesday.

Christy first worked on the Manhattan Project at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago with famed physicist Enrico Fermi. Christy went on to be one of the early recruits to the Los Alamos Laboratory, recruited by Robert Oppenheimer, who’s also known as the “father of the atomic bomb.” The nuclear trigger created by Christy is known as the “Christy bomb” or “Christy trigger.”

Christy’s experience with the Manhattan Project led him to later oppose further development of nuclear weapons, including Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, aka the “Star Wars” program. After he retired, in the mid–1980s he became a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on Dosimetry, studying the radiation health effects of the bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Christy went on to serve as a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech from 1946 to 1985; during that time, he also briefly served as the college’s president. He worked in nuclear physics, first focusing on cosmic rays before later working in astrophysics.

Christy investigated the pulsations in the brightness of RR Lyrae stars, which are used to measure distance in space. He won the Royal Astronomical Society’s Eddington Medal for that work. Christy’s honors also included being elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965.

VIDEO: Robert Christy reminisces

(Hat tip: Pasadena Star-News)

Read an oral history interview with Robert F. Christy:

Oral History with Robert F. Christy

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