Manhattan Project scientist Donald F. Hornig, who was involved in the development of the original atomic bomb, has passed away at age 92. In addition, Donald F. Hornig was an adviser to three US presidents and a president of Brown University. He had lived in Providence with his wife for the past several years and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease until he passed away on Monday.
According to the Associated Press, Donald F. Hornig was a Harvard-trained physical chemist who worked from 1944 to 1946 on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos Laboratory. He was one of the youngest group leaders having been hired only year out of graduate school. Hornig was part of the team that designed the firing unit they called the “X unit” that triggered the simultaneous implosion of the bomb’s plutonium device.
In a 1968 interview that is held at Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Donald F. Hornig recalled the moment the bomb was detonated:
“The minute the firing needle dropped off and I knew it had detonated, I dashed out the door in time to see the fireball rising into the sky. I was awestruck, just literally awestruck. This thing was more fantastic than anything I had ever imagined.”
After the end of World War II, Donalf F. Hornig joined Brown University as a chemistry professor in 1946. Over time, Hornig served as a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy and then as special assistant to the president for science and technology for Johnson. Hornig became Brown’s president in 1970 and took on the task of reviving the Ivy League university from a $4.1 million deficit.
Brown University President Christina H. Paxson explained in a written statement how Donald F. Hornig left his mark on the college:
“As Brown’s president, he was able to make difficult fiscal decisions that put the university back on a firm footing. Much of Brown University’s success over the last three decades had its roots in these decisions, for which we remain grateful.”
According to the Washington Post, survivors include his wife of 69 years, Lilli Schwenk Hornig of Providence; three children, Joanna Fox and Christopher Hornig, both of Washington, and Ellen Hornig of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts a brother; a sister; nine grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.