Nuclear weapons pioneer dies in Chicago

-A A +A

Science: Julius Tabin was a member of Enrico Fermi’s personal team

By The Staff

Julius Tabin, a member of Enrico Fermi’s personal team at the Trinity Site blast in 1945, died in Chicago of heart failure at the age of 92 last month.

Tabin joined a small group of physicists working on the Manhattan Project, first at the University of Chicago and then at Los Alamos.

As part of Fermi’s team, he assisted in a series of studies that included measuring the efficiency of the first atomic test blast.

After the blast, Tabin rode in a lead-lined Sherman tank to ground zero to be the first to collect a core sample of earth for analysis. Due to exposure to excessive radiation while gathering this material, he was restricted from conducting further physics research for an extended period.

According to the Chicago Tribune, he turned to the law, where his background in physics and his contacts with other pioneers of the atomic age made him the go-to attorney for those who began to form companies in the new industry of nuclear energy.

“With all those personal contacts, he was quite a rainmaker for the firm,” said Jim Schumann, now of counsel to the intellectual property law firm of Fitch, Even, Tabin & Flannery, where Tabin practiced for 56 years before retiring in 2006.

Of his father’s exposure to radiation, his son, Clifford, told the Tribune, “As far as we can tell, there was no lasting effect. He lived a full life and never got cancer.”

Tabin grew up in Chicago, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and had completed the work for his doctoral thesis on cosmic rays at U of C when he joined a small group of physicists working on what came to be called the Manhattan Project. After working with the team in Chicago, Tabin moved on to work with Enrico Fermi at Los Alamos, the Tribune reported.

Prohibited from continuing nuclear research by a forerunner of what is now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Tabin moved after the war from research to teaching physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He also began work on a law degree at Harvard Law School.

By 1950 he was back in Chicago practicing with what is now Fitch, Even, Tabin & Flannery.

Clifford Tabin talked to the Tribune about his father, who had reflected on his role in helping to bring the atom bomb into the world. “He did not have any regrets about it,” his son said. His father’s goal at the time was to end a war that was causing death and destruction all over the world.

Clifford Tabin said his father also thought it was important that the U.S. master the atomic bomb before Germany or Japan could develop the technology.

“From the time radiation was discovered, it was inevitable there were going to be weapons,” Clifford Tabin told the newspaper. “He felt good that he contributed to the war effort.”

Tabin’s wife of 58 years, Johanna Krout Tabin, died in 2010.

In addition to his sons Clifford and Geoffrey, Mr. Tabin is survived by a brother, Seymour, and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for Nov. 10 at a location still to be set.