lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 5 07:48:02 MDT 2002
NY Times, Sept. 5, 2002
Martin Kamen, 89, a Discoverer of Radioactive Carbon-14, Is Dead
By KENNETH CHANG
Martin D. Kamen, one of the scientists who discovered radioactive carbon-14
and in doing so helped lay a foundation for deciphering the chemical
processes in plants and animals, died on Aug. 31 at his home in Santa
Barbara, Calif. He was 89.
"The whole world changed," said Dr. Arthur B. Robinson of the Oregon
Institute of Science and Medicine, who was a doctoral student of Dr. Kamen.
"Before that, nobody could make any progress with biochemistry."
Carbon-14 also revolutionized archaeology, allowing precise dating of bones
Dr. Kamen was unable to bask in recognition for the discovery, made in
1940. Four years later, he was summarily fired by the University of
California at Berkeley, because of suspicions arising from a dinner he had
with two officials from the Russian consulate. Over the next decade, he
fought recurring rumors and accusations that he had leaked atomic bomb secrets.
At first, he found all academic positions closed to him and worked for a
while as an inspector at a shipyard. The House Un-American Activities
Committee summoned him to testify in 1948. The State Department refused to
issue him a passport. The Chicago Tribune in 1951 published articles naming
him as a suspected spy. He attempted suicide.
In his autobiography, "Radiant Science, Dark Politics" (1985), Dr. Kamen
said his wife, Beka, found him lying on the bathroom floor, bleeding from
cuts to his face and throat. "Fortunately," he wrote, "the knife I had
seized had been dull."
Dr. Kamen's troubles began during the Manhattan Project. While assigned to
a project in Tennessee at what is now Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he
asked a colleague to produce some radioactive sodium that he needed for an
experiment, he said in his autobiography.
When he opened the container with the sodium, he was surprised that it was
glowing purple much more radioactive than could be produced in a
cyclotron. He immediately realized that an atomic reactor must have already
been built at the laboratory, he wrote. Because of security, Dr. Kamen was
not among those told of the reactor.
In his excitement, he blurted out his realization to Dr. Lawrence, who was
visiting the laboratory, and to Dr. Lawrence's Army escort. "Lawrence
strode on, dissembling any interest in the news," Dr. Kamen wrote, "but
shortly afterward I heard that an investigation had been instituted to find
out the source of the leak to me."
Later, back in California, Dr. Kamen met two Russian officials at a
cocktail party given by the violinist Isaac Stern, a friend. The consulate
vice counsel asked Dr. Kamen for help in obtaining experimental radiation
treatment for a colleague with leukemia, Dr. Kamen said. He made inquiries.
In appreciation, the official invited Dr. Kamen for dinner at Bernstein's
Because of the earlier incident at Oak Ridge, Federal Bureau of
Investigation agents observed the dinner. Dr. Kamen was fired almost
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