Naomi Livesay French was an American mathematician.
During the Manhattan Project, she worked at Los Alamos for a group in the theoretical division responsible for performing calculations in connection to the theory of implosion.
Born in Montana, Livesay received a B.A. in Mathematics from Cornell College in Iowa before going on to earn a Ph.M. in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin in 1939. After, Livesay got a job at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, working on statistics about the costs of state and local governments. During this time, she was sent to Philadelphia to complete a training course in operating and programming IBM electric calculating machines. For six months, with the help of an assistant, Livesay designed and implemented plug-board programs, punched cards, and carried cards over from one machine to another.
After receiving a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to work on the study of education at the University of Chicago, in the fall of 1940, Livesay began assistant teaching at the University of Illinois. She became a full-time instructor the next school year.
During the fall of 1943, Livesay got a letter from Joseph Hirschfelder, an American physicist, offering her a job working on a “war project”. After her security clearance came through, she left for Los Alamos in February 1944. Hirschfelder’s group had been working on the gun model for plutonium, but by the time Livesay arrived in Los Alamos, that project had been terminated. However, Livesay was asked to stick around by Richard Feynman to work with another theoretical group, calculating the predicted shock wave from an implosion-type bomb. Since this group would be using IBM machines, Livesay was an extremely qualified and ideal candidate. Her position involved supervising the crew that kept the IBM machines running 24 hours a day, as well as performing hand calculations to check for any errors made by the machines.
During her time at Los Alamos, Livesay ate her meals in Fuller Lodge with friends, like Eleanor Ewing, and met notables like Niels Bohr. Like many young people who worked in Los Alamos, Livesay met her soon-to-be husband while working on the project. In October 1945, Livesay married Anthony French, an experimental nuclear physicist from England. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon driving around the Northwest in a car that they purchased from fellow researcher Klaus Fuchs, who was later convicted of espionage.
In 1946, the couple moved to England where they would remain for seven years. During this period, Livesay briefly held a civil service position before giving birth to her two children. Then, the family returned to the United States. French worked in the Physics Department at the University of South Carolina. Livesay taught mathematics for one year at Columbia College before deciding to leave the field and raise her children.
Livesay passed away in 2001.