Willard Libby

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Willard Frank Libby (born December 17, 1908 in Grand Valley , Colorado , † September 8, 1980 in Los Angeles ) was an American chemist and physicist . For the development of the radiocarbon method to determine the age of archaeological finds, he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 .

life and work

Libby was a physical chemist who did radioactivity and isotope research .

Libby studied chemistry from 1927 to 1933 at the University of California at Berkeley and graduated with a doctorate (doctorate with Wendell Latimer ). His doctoral thesis dealt with the radioactivity of lanthanoids ( radioactivity of ordinary elements, especially samarium and neodymium method of detection ). Immediately after completing his studies, his scientific career began, first as an instructor and later as an assistant professor. During the 1930s, Libby built the first Geiger counter in the United States. In 1934 he also developed particle detectors to measure weak radioactivity.

With a Guggenheim scholarship , he worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University from 1941 to 1945 . He worked in Harold Clayton Urey's group on the enrichment of uranium -235 using the gas diffusion process . The use of the very corrosive uranium hexafluoride presented the working group with the challenge of finding corrosion-resistant materials. Libby's findings on the causal effect enabled a better understanding of corrosion and the development of suitable materials.

After the war, he accepted a call to the University of Chicago , where he taught until 1954. As a pioneer of radiochemistry and isotope research , he developed the radiocarbon method between 1948 and 1950 for dating archaeological finds if they contain organic material and are between 500 and 50,000 years old. It is based on a comparative measurement of the activity of the carbon isotope 14 C in a prehistoric and a fresh sample of organic material. This method plays a major role in paleopathology and forensic medicine.

For the next five years he was the first chemist to serve on the US Atomic Energy Commission . In 1959 he returned to the University of California , where he worked until his retirement in 1976. From 1962 he headed the Institute for Geo- and Space Physics there.

Libby has received numerous research prizes and awards, the most important of which was the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry . Two years earlier he had been honored with the Willard Gibbs Award . He was a member of several academies. Since 1950 he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences . In 1954 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In 1958 he was accepted as a corresponding member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences . Since 1954 he was a member of the American Philosophical Society and since 1969 a corresponding member of the British Academy .

Libby was married to Leonor Hickey from 1940 to 1966 and had twin daughters in 1945. After the divorce, he married the physicist Leona Woods Marshall in 1966 .


  • Willard F. Libby: Radiocarbon Dating . University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1952


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Biographical data, publications and academic family tree of Willard Frank Libby at academictree.org, accessed on March 8, 2018.
  2. ^ WF Libby: Simple Amplifier for Geiger-Müller Counters . In: Physical Review . tape 42 , no. 3 , November 1932, p. 440-441 , doi : 10.1103 / PhysRev.42.440 .
  3. ^ WF Libby: Radioactivity of Neodymium and Samarium . In: Physical Review . tape 46 , no. 3 , August 1934, p. 196-204 , doi : 10.1103 / PhysRev.46.196 .
  4. ^ Richard G. Hewlett, Oscar E. Anderson, 1990, The New World. A history of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, volume I, 1939-1946 , Berkeley, University of California Press (éd. Originale 1962).
  5. Wolfgang U. Eckart : History of Medicine , 1st ed. 1990, p. 3; 2nd edition 1994, pp. 3 + 4; 3rd edition 1998, p. 5; 4th edition 2001, p. 5, each Springer Heidelberg, Berlin, New York.
  6. ^ Member Directory. Willard Libby. National Academy of Sciences, accessed June 24, 2016 .
  7. ^ Members of the HAdW since it was founded in 1909. Willard Frank Libby. Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, accessed June 24, 2016 .
  8. ^ Member History: Willard F. Libby. American Philosophical Society, accessed October 28, 2018 .
  9. ^ Deceased Fellows. British Academy, accessed June 30, 2020 .