Rotblat, Joseph 1908–2005

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Rotblat, Joseph 1908–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born November 4, 1908, in Warsaw, Poland; died August 31, 2005, in London, England. Physicist, educator, and author. A onetime scientist for the Manhattan Project, Rotblat became an anti-nuclear activist and cofounder of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Trained as an electrician as a young man, he was inspired by Albert Einstein's work to study physics. He subsequently completed a master's degree in physics at the Free University of Poland in 1932, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Warsaw in 1938. Because he won a fellowship to attend Liverpool University the next year, Rotblat was out of the country when Germany invaded Poland. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to return to Poland and rescue his wife, and she became a victim of the Holocaust. Remaining in England, he became a lecturer at Liverpool. During World War II, fears emerged that the Germans were developing a nuclear bomb. Rotblat was convinced that he should become part of the Manhattan Project team that was seeking to develop a nuclear warhead for the Allies. After less than a year on the project, however, he saw that the Allies were winning the war and that a nuclear bomb was no longer necessary. He quit the project in 1944 and returned to England, where he was pursued by American federal agents who accused him of being a spy for the Soviets. Rotblat managed to persuade them that he was innocent, though he was prevented from reentering the United States until 1951. During the late 1940s he served as director of research in nuclear physics at the University of London. After joining the university's Medical College at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1949, he led studies on the effects of radiation on living tissue. Rotblat had been horrified by the U.S. bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, and when the Americans proceeded to bomb Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands during a 1954 nuclear test that left its native people homeless, he teamed up with a group of scientists and intellectuals that included Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Linus Pauling, Max Börn, and others, most of whom were or would become Nobel Prize winners. The scientists issued a public statement protesting the production and use of nuclear weapons. They then organized what would become the Pugwash Conference, which first met in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada. The purpose of these meetings was to allow scientists from all over the world to discuss nuclear arms without the political pressures of being representatives of their respective nations. Attended by many of the world's most brilliant scientist, the Pugwash Conferences became a highly effective means of influencing international politics. Today, many historians have credited Pugwash as a key influence in the weapons bans that resulted in such agreements as the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Though Rotblat and his colleagues were often accused of be-ing Soviet or Communist sympathizers, especially by conservative politicians in the West, their anti-war stand ultimately contributed to a less-militaristic world. As an author, Rotblat published many books on his anti-war views, including Scientists in the Quest for Peace: A History of the Pugwash Conferences (1972), The Arms Race at a Time of Decision (1984), Strategic Defense and the Future of the Arms Race (1987), and War No More: Eliminating Conflict in the Nuclear Age (2003). Rotblat, who retired from the University of London in 1976, was honored many times for his activism and contributions to science, including with the 1983 Bertrand Russell Society award, the 1992 Albert Einstein Peace Prize, a 1995 Nobel prize, the Toda peace research prize in 2000, and the 2002 Linus Pauling award. He was also named a commander in the Order of the British Empire in 1965, a fellow of the Royal Society, and was knighted in 1998.



Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2005, section 3, p. 11.

New York Times, September 2, 2005, p. C14.

Times (London, England), September 2, 2005, p. 72.

Washington Post, September 2, 2005, p. B5.