Atomic Heritage Foundation

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Maurice Shapiro

Maurice "Maury" Shapiro was an American physicist who studied underwater explosions at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project.

Born Moishe Mendel Werner in Jerusalem during World War I, Maury moved to Chicago with his mother and her second husband, the Rabbi Osher Shapiro, when he was 6 years old. There he studied physics at the University of Chicago, receiving first his bachelor’s in 1936 and then his Ph.D. under the direction of Arthur Compton in 1942. Shapiro briefly attended a Talmudic seminary in New York after receiving his bachelor’s degree, but returned to Chicago to devote himself instead to physics. Shapiro’s research involved the new photographic emulsion technique to study cosmic rays.

At the beginning of World War II, Shapiro was offered a post as a civilian scientist at a naval base in Maryland, where he began his work on the dynamics of underwater explosions. In 1944, Shapiro began work with the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, studying the effects of fission bomb detonation underwater. He became the leader of the “Water Effects” group—which studied underwater explosions—in the Ordnance Division, and was a consultant on hydrodynamics. While at Los Alamos, Shapiro witnessed the Trinity test, where he shared a blanket with Hans Bethe and was “startled” by the blast. Shapiro also calculated the ballistics tables used in the bombing missions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 1946, he served as Chair of the Association of Los Alamos Scientists and lobbied for the international control of atomic energy after the war. He also worked on nuclear science at Oak Ridge and designed a power reactor, which was instrumental to the production of reactor-powered propulsion systems.

In 1949, he founded a cosmic-ray laboratory at the Naval Research Laboratory, hoping to determine the source and composition of galactic cosmic rays. Shapiro founded the International School of Cosmic Ray Astrophysics in Erice, Italy, in 1977. He remained a member of the Naval Research Laboratory for thirty-three years, and worked as the director of the school in Erice until his death.

Shapiro died on February 27, 2008, at the age of 92. For a tribute by his son Joel Shapiro, please see Memento Maury: A Tribute to Maury Shapiro.

Maurice Shapiro's Timeline

  • 1915 Nov 13th Born in Jerusalem, Israel.
  • 1936 Received A.B. in Physics from the University of Chicago.
  • 1942 Received Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago under the direction of Arthur Compton.

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