Edwin McMillan

Most Popular

Birth Sign

Edwin Mattison McMillan was an American nuclear scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951 for discovering the chemistry of trans-uranium elements and the heavier-than-uranium element ‘element 93,’ commonly known as ‘Neptunium.’ Glenn T. Seaborg, another nuclear physicist, shared the medal with him. The discovery of ‘Neptunium’ and other trans-uranium elements later supplied a significant source of nuclear energy while also advancing nuclear theory and chemical research. With the help of Arthur C. Wahl, Joseph W. Kennedy, and Glenn T. Seaborg, he identified another trans-uranium element known as ‘element 94’ or ‘Plutonium.’ Due to national security concerns, these discoveries could not be made public until after World War II. He was the first to propose the concept of ‘phase-stability,’ which led to the creation of synchrotron and syncro-cyclotron devices. These machines were eventually used to boost the energy of particles that were artificially accelerated by hundreds of MeV in the machines. The ‘cyclotron’ machine, designed by Ernest Lawrence, had hit its limit, as the atomic particles driven in an ever-widening spiral could not reach a velocity beyond a certain point, and the electrical pulses became out of sync. In a system co-invented with Vladimir Veksler and dubbed the’synchro-cyclotron,’ McMillan discovered a technique to keep the synchronization for limitless speeds.

Childhood and Adolescence

Edwin M. McMillan was born on September 18, 1907, in Redondo Beach, California. Dr. Edwin Harbaugh McMillan was his father, and Anne Marie Mattison was his mother. His parents were Scottish, and he was born in Maryland.
Catherine Helen, his younger sister, was his only sibling.

His father-in-law was Yale Medical School Dean George Blumer, and his sister-in-law, Molly Blumer, was married to Ernest Lawrence, the namesake of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In October 1908, his family relocated from Maryland to Pasadena, California, where he spent the most of his youth. From 1913 to 1918, he attended the ‘McKinley Elementary School,’ then the ‘Grant School,’ from 1918 to 1920, and finally the ‘Pasadena High School,’ where he graduated in 1924.

In 1928, he graduated with a B.Sc. in physics from the ‘California Institute of Technology,’ where he worked on a research project with Linus Pauling.

In 1929, he received his M.Sc. from the ‘California Institute of Technology,’ where he also worked on a research project called ‘An improved method for the determination of the radium content of rocks,’ which was never published.
In 1933, he obtained his PhD in philosophy from ‘Princeton University.’ The measurement of a proton’s magnetic moment in a molecular beam was the subject of his PhD thesis.

A Career of Edwin McMillan

Before completing his PhD, Edwin McMillan worked as a ‘National Research Fellow’ at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught physics.

In 1934, he began working as a Staff Member at the ‘Radiation Laboratory’ of the ‘University of California’ under Ernest O. Lawrence. He assisted in the development of cyclotrons and associated equipment.
He began teaching in the ‘Department of Physics’ at the ‘University of California’ at Berkeley in 1935 and rose through the ranks to Assistant Professor in 1936 and Associate Professor in 1941.

McMillan and Phillip Abelson collaborated in 1940 to develop ‘element 93,’ the first trans-uranium element ever created by bombarding Uranium-235 with neutrons, and dubbed it ‘Neptunium.’

In February 1941, he was assisted by Joseph W. Kennedy, Glenn Seaborg, and Arthur Wahl in isolating another trans-uranium element known as ‘element 94,’ which was given the name ‘Plutonium,’ following McMillan’s pattern of naming these elements after planets.

During WWII, he took a leave of absence from the university to work on radar research at MIT’s ‘Radiation Laboratory,’ and then worked on sonar at the ‘US Navy Radio and Sound Laboratory,’ in San Diego, from 1941 to 1942.

He proceeded to Los Alamos in November 1942 to do implosion research for the ‘Manhattan Project,’ which created the first atomic weapon. He stayed until 1945.

McMillan proposed the concept of ‘phase stability’ in 1945, which was later used to construct the’synchroton’ and the’synchro-cyclotron.’
In 1946, he was appointed to the faculty of the ‘University of California’ in Berkeley as a full professor.

When the Second World War ended, he went to the ‘University of California’s Berkeley Radiation Laboratory,’ which subsequently became known as the ‘Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.’ In 1954, he was promoted to Associate Director of this laboratory, and eventually to Deputy Director.

From 1954 to 1958, he was a member of the ‘General Advisory Committee’ for the ‘Atomic Energy Commission.’
In 1958, he was named Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In 1960, he was elected to the ‘International Union of Pure and Applied Physics”s ‘Commission on High Energy Physics.’
From 1968 to 1971, he was the chairman of the ‘National Academy of Sciences.’

In 1973, he stepped down as Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Following his retirement, he worked at CERN from 1974 to 1975 on the measurement of the magnetic moment of the’muon.’

Major Projects of Edwin McMillan

On August 24, 1950, he published ‘Focusing in Linear Accelerators’ and ‘A Thick Target for Synchrotons and Betatrons,’ and on September 19, 1950, he published ‘Focusing in Linear Accelerators.’
On December 12, 1951, his Nobel lecture ‘The Trans-uranium Elements: Early History’ was published.

‘Notes on Quadruple Focusing’ was published on February 9, 1956, and ‘Some Thoughts on Stability in Non-linear Periodic Focusing Systems’ and its addendum were published on September 5, 1967 and March 29, 1968, respectively.

Achievements & Awards

In 1950, Edwin M. McMillan was awarded the ‘Research Corporation Scientific Award.’
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1951.

In 1961, he received an honorary doctorate in science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and in 1863, he received an honorary doctorate from Gustavus Adolphus College.
In 1963, he and Professor Vladimir I. Veksler received the ‘Atoms for Peace Award.’

He was a member of the ‘American Physical Society,’ ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences,’ ‘National Academy of Sciences,’ and ‘American Philosophical Society,’ among other organizations.
In 1990, he was awarded the ‘National Medal of Science.’

Personal History and Legacy

On June 7, 1941, he married Elsie Walford Blumer.
From this marriage, he produced one daughter, Ann Bradford, and two boys, David Mattison and Stephen Walker, born in 1943, 1945, and 1949, respectively.

Edwin M. McMillan died of diabetes complications on September 7, 1991 in El Cerrito, California, USA.

Estimated Net Worth

Edwin is one of the wealthiest physicists and one of the most well-known. Edwin McMillan’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


Edwin M. McMillan was immensely proud of his Scottish heritage, and in 1958 he was elected president of the ‘Clan MacMillan Society of North America.’