Obituaries

Henry Linschitz, 95; Manhattan Project scientist

“The power of nuclear weapons is a universal threat,” Dr. Linschitz said.
“The power of nuclear weapons is a universal threat,” Dr. Linschitz said.

A scientist who directed a team working on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M., Henry Linschitz helped design and build the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Japan at the end of World War II, and then he dedicated himself to persuading people that nuclear war should never be repeated.

“I was jubilant at the first atomic bomb test in Alamogordo,” Dr. Linschitz, a chemistry professor emeritus at Brandeis University, told the Globe in 2003. “But I’ve been trying ever since to demonstrate that the power of nuclear weapons is a universal threat.”

He worked with the Manhattan Project because “the war was at a critical point, and he wanted to do something helpful,” said his wife, Suzanne Hodes, an artist and peace activist.

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Afterward, however, “he said, ‘The bomb helped end the war. Now for God’s sake, let’s never use it again,’ ” said his longtime friend Kosta Tsipis, a nuclear physicist who formerly directed the Program in Science and Technology for International Security at MIT.

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Dr. Linschitz, who helped found United Campuses to Prevent Nuclear War, a national organization, died Nov. 24 in his Waltham home. He was 95 and his health had been declining.

Because Dr. Linschitz had firsthand knowledge about the power of atomic weapons, he could speak eloquently “about the ignorance of nuclear war and the danger of nuclear weapons,” said Tsipis, who also has taught at Brandeis University.

“He had many strong views, and he pursued them with great vigor,” Tsipis said of Dr. Linschitz, who often was a guest lecturer in his classes.

A doctoral student at Duke University when he was offered a job at the government-run Explosives Research Laboratory in Pittsburgh, Dr. Linschitz first worked there and later moved to Los Alamos, where he helped develop the explosive lens that triggered the atomic bomb.

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In a 1995 interview with Chemical & Engineering News, published 50 years after the first atomic bomb was detonated in a test, he recalled what it was like to witness the dawn of the nuclear age at the Alamogordo, N.M., test site. Before the detonation, Dr. Linschitz wired the firing cables to the bomb as it sat atop a steel tower.

“It is really difficult to describe adequately the overwhelming impact of the shot,” said Dr. Linschitz, who observed the blast from 15 miles away. “Someone later wrote that the sun rose twice that morning, but the dazzling white light all around on the desert and mountains seemed far brighter than any sun, and the ensuing blast, even at that distance, was a sustained echoing roar.”

Dr. Linschitz recalled “putting aside the dark welder’s glass and watching the fireball die away, a great blue-violet glow in the sky. This was either an afterimage from my bleached-out eyes or, more probably, light from an enormous volume of nitrogen ionized by the high temperature and intense radiation of the fission products. The dawn finally rose on that unforgettable towering mushroom cloud. The steel tower, of course, had simply disappeared. At first we were jubilant — release of tension. But later that morning, driving back to Los Alamos, we were all silent.”

The younger of two sons of Polish immigrants, Henry Linschitz was born in New York City in 1919. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York and received a master’s and a doctorate from Duke.

When he worked at Los Alamos, it was “a very secret place” where “mail was censored and his parents had to write to him at a PO box,” his wife said.

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After leaving New Mexico, Dr. Linschitz served in the Army Air Forces in the Pacific. When the war ended, he did post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago with James Franck, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Dr. Linschitz taught at Syracuse University from 1948 until 1957, when he joined the faculty at Brandeis, where he taught until 1989.

He met Suzanne Hodes when she was a student in a chemistry course he taught at Brandeis. They became reacquainted in France six years later and married at her mother’s home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We just realized that we were meant for each other,” she said.

They worked closely as they advocated against nuclear weapons. Dr. Linschitz had “a strong charisma and a gentle spirit,” and many interests outside science, his wife said, including art “by me and by others,” music, photography, poetry, gardening, cooking, and travel.

The couple had one son, Joseph Linitz of Waltham, who was in first grade when the family spent a year in Israel while Dr. Linschitz was a Guggenheim fellow at the Weizmann Institute for Science. Dr. Linschitz, who was an authority on solar energy and photochemistry, was a consultant to Eastman Kodak for many years.

In 1966, Dr. Linschitz submitted an affidavit in the case of Morton Sobell, whose lawyers were seeking a new hearing to contest Sobell’s conviction on espionage charges in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case. Dr. Linschitz contended that information that was passed to the Soviet Union in the case would have been worthless. Sobell was freed in 1969 after serving nearly 18 years of a 30-year sentence.

In 1982, Dr. Linschitz helped found United Campuses to Prevent Nuclear War, a Brandeis-based organization that spawned about 50 chapters at colleges across the nation.

He won numerous awards and served on panels and committees at National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the National Research Council, and the American Chemical Society.

“He was a humanitarian as well as a scientist, and just a sensational person,” said David Cross of Stuart, Fla., who worked with Dr. Linschitz at Syracuse and Brandeis and who said his friend “was always very careful about making sure the results of his work were right.”

A service has been held for Dr. Linschitz who, in addition to his wife and son leaves two grandchildren.

His son, who is an English teacher, read several of Dr. Linschitz’s favorite poems as part of his eulogy and recalled the “spectacular omelets” he created “with his famous attention to proper scientific method.”

He added that from the many letters that arrived after Dr. Linschitz died, the family was “reminded of how many important parts of my Dad’s life there were to describe: personally, in his connectedness and empathy; professionally, as a respected and emulated teacher and colleague; politically of course, as a dedicated peace activist; and as a committed mensch, as well as a husband, father, father-in-law, brother, uncle, and grandfather.”

Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66@verizon.net.