Karl T. Compton

Karl Taylor Compton (1887-1954) was an American physicist.

In May 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson created the Interim Committee and selected Compton as one of the Committee's eight distinguished members. The purpose of the committee was to advise on matters pertaining to nuclear energy. The Interim Committee included a number of prominent political, scientific, and industrial figures who were tasked with advising the President on wartime controls, the release of information, and making recommendations on post-war controls and policies related to nuclear energy. The Committee's first duty was to advise on the manner in which nuclear weapons should be used against Japan. Later, it advised on legislation for the control and regulation of nuclear energy.


Scientific Contributions

As a graduate student at Princeton University, Compton worked with Owen Willans Richardson, the renowned British physicist who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1928 for his work on thermionic emission. Together, he and Richardson published several papers on electrons released by ultraviolet light, electron theory and on the photoelectric effect.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Compton was sent to Paris as an associate scientific attache to the American Embassy. While there, he was exposed to the new technology and weaponry used during the war, which made him realize the importance of science in wartime developments, a concept he embraced throughout his life. Compton also met a number of prominent European scientists and established relationships that would give him international renown.

In 1930, Compton became President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At MIT, Compton stressed his idea of cooperation between the university system and government in scientific research as a critical "public service" to industrial progress.

In 1940, Compton joined the newly formed National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), where he was appointed as a member and chief of Division D. This particular division was made up of scientists and engineers dealing with detection systems such as radar and heat radiation. Throughout World War II he served on numerous committees relating to weapons technology and development.

After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Compton went to Japan as part of the Scientific Intelligence Mission. Compton would eventually return to the United States and continue as president of MIT until 1948, when he was appointed by President Truman to head the Research and Development Board, formed to oversee scientific preparedness in the postwar period.

[Portions of this profile were taken and adapted from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's NuclearFiles.org website: http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/library/biographies/bio_compton-karl.htm]


Karl T. Compton's Timeline

  • 1887 Sep 14th Born in Wooster, Ohio.
  • 1908 Graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Wooster University.
  • 1912 Received Ph.D. in Physics summa cum laude from Princeton University.

Related Profiles