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In Memoriam: Wilfrid Rall

In Memoriam: Wilfrid Rall


On Sunday, April 1, 2018, Manhattan Project veteran Wilfrid Rall passed away at the age of 95. Rall was born on August 29, 1922 in Los Angeles, California. He went on to become a neuroscientist and physicist, and is considered to be one of the founders of computational neuroscience. He studied physics at Yale University before joining the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago in 1943. He worked in the physics division of the Met Lab as a research assistant until 1945.

Rall shared his feelings about the Manhattan Project in a 2015 interview: “I think what was special about it — which is why you had a number of European scientists who were contributing to the effort — is because they were afraid the Nazis were going to get it. It was a race against the Nazis. I don’t think many people felt too much qualms against it. They felt it was important to win that race.”

In July of 1945, Rall, along with many other scientists, signed the Szilard Petition, which protested the use of the atomic bomb on Japan. He commented: “Leo wrote a petition to FDR, who never got it because he died, and I signed it. All of the radiation would make the area [Japan] uninhabitable. I understand that the reason it was done [was] because of the fear that Germany might get it. It was a legitimate fear, and that made it a legitimate reason to get it done. But then the next question is, what about using it?”

Rall later earned degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of New Zealand. Throughout his life, he supported many organizations related to the promotion of world peace and the preservation of nature. He spent most of his career working with the National Institutes of Health, until his retirement in 1994.

For more on Rall, please see his AHF profile, his 2015 Nelson County Times interview, and his obituary in the Washington Post.