Atomic Heritage Foundation

In partnership with the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Join Today as an Atomic History Patron Member

Arthur H. Compton

Arthur Compton (1892-1962) was an American physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

A top administrator and advisor during the Manhattan Project, Compton played a key role in the making of the atomic bomb. He headed a National Academy of Sciences committee, whose members included Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner, that examined the potential use of atomic energy for military purposes -- research that was already going on at the University of Chicago.

From 1942 to 1945, Compton was project director of the Chicago Met Lab, an important university outpost of Manhattan Project research and development where Chicago Pile-1, the first controlled, self-sustained nuclear chain reaction, took place. The Met Lab supported the development, construction, and operation of the reactors at Hanford and the enrichment activities at Oak Ridge.

In 1945, he served on the Scientific Panel of the Interim Committee that recommended military use of the atomic bomb against Japan. 


Scientific Contributions

Compton is best known for demonstrating the "Compton effect," which occurs when high energy photons (such as X-rays) collide with a target, and transfer part of that energy to a single electron -- supporting Einstein's particle theory of light. Compton shared the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery. For more on Compton's scientific achievements, visit the Nobel Prize website.

[Photograph of Compton courtesy of the University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-01862, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.]

Arthur H. Compton's Timeline

  • 1934 President of the American Physical Society.
  • 1939 to 1940 President of the American Association of Scientific Workers.
  • 1941 to 1942 Examined feasibility of developing an atomic bomb and early scientific recommendations enriching uranium and producing plutonium.

Related Profiles