Willard Frank Libby (December 17, 1908 – September 8, 1980) was an American physical chemist noted for his role in the 1949 development of radiocarbon dating, a process which revolutionized archaeology. For his contributions to the team that developed this process, Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960.
William Frank Libby was born in Grand Valley, Colorado, on 17th December, 1908, to Ora Edward Libby and his wife Eva May (née Rivers). Libby's father was a farmer; his mother, a housewife. Before he reached high school age, Libby's parents moved to the Russian River area of California, near Sebastopol.
Libby began his education in a two-room Colorado schoolhouse. After moving to California he attended grammar and high schools, including Analy High School, near Sebastopol, between 1913 and 1926 and in 1927, enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley. He received his B.S. in 1931 and Ph.D. in 1933 in chemistry from Berkeley, where he then became a lecturer and later assistant professor.
Libby was appointed Instructor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1933 and during the next ten years was promoted successively to Assistant and then Associate Professor of Chemistry. He spent the 1930s building sensitive Geiger counters to measure weak natural and artificial radioactivity. In 1941 he joined Berkeley's chapter of Alpha Chi Sigma. He was awarded a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1941 and elected to work at Princeton University, but on 8th December, 1941, this Fellowship was interrupted for war work on America's entry into World War II, and Libby went to Columbia University on the Manhattan District Project, on leave from the Department of Chemistry, California University, till 1945. Libby was responsible for the gaseous diffusion separation and enrichment of the uranium-235 which was used in the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
In 1945 he became a professor at the University of Chicago. In 1954, he was appointed to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In 1959, he became Professor of Chemistry at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a position he held until his retirement in 1976. He taught honors freshman chemistry from 1959 to 1963 (in keeping with a University tradition that senior faculty teach this class). He was Director of the University of California statewide Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) for many years including the lunar landing time. He also started the first Environmental Engineering program at UCLA in 1972...
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