University of Rochester

Rochester Review
September-October 2009
Vol. 72, No. 1

Review home


In Memoriam

Tribute Herbert York ’42, ’43 (MS): Weapons Scientist and Arms Control Advocate

Herbert York ’42, ’43 (MS) once noted the reaction he received when he advocated for a ban on nuclear testing.

A world-renowned physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb as a high-level scientist and administrator beginning in the 1940s, by the late 1950s, York had become a leading champion for arms control.

“I was the only senior official who thought it was a great idea,” York said years later. “Others were tolerant of it, but the majority thought it was really dumb.”

That work—both his scientific work in physics and his leadership in helping to control nuclear weapons—earned York several of the nation’s highest awards over the course of his 60-year career. His honors included the Enrico Fermi Award, presented by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and the Vannevar Bush Award, presented by the National Science Board in 2000.

York, who earned baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Rochester, was presented in 1997 with the Hutchison Medal, the University’s highest award given to alumni to honor their service and achievements.

After graduating from Rochester, York joined the University of California Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, from which he was sent to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb.

At the end of the war, York returned to the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate in physics and joined the faculty in 1951. In 1952, he became the founding director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, overseeing the development of the hydrogen bomb and other classified projects. After serving as the first chief scientist of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, he returned to San Diego in 1961.

York spent most of his academic career as a faculty member and educational administrator at the University of California at San Diego, where he served as founding chancellor from 1961 to 1964 and as interim chancellor from 1970 to 1972.

While at San Diego, York continued to serve as an advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter as well as to San Diego and University of California system administrators. He died May 19.

“Herb York’s life was an unsurpassed record of achievement in science, education, and national security,” said Harold Brown, secretary of defense under Carter and a friend of York’s, adding that “he was dedicated to peace while being realistic about security needs. Beyond the public record, all of us who knew him as a friend appreciated his omnivorous interest in the world around him, dedication to his family, great sense of humor, and zest for life.”

—Pat JaCoby

Pat JaCoby is the director of outreach communications and university spokesperson at the University of California at San Diego.