J. Carson Mark
J. Carson Mark. Mathematician who participated in the Manhattan Project, helped develop the hydrogen bomb, and led the Laboratory,s Theoretical Division for 27 years.
For close to 27 years J. Carson Mark led the Laboratory,s Theoretical (T) Division. He worked on the Manhattan Project, contributed to the development of the hydrogen bomb, and later helped T Division diversify by establishing collaborations between Los Alamos and private industry.
Born July 6, 1913, in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, Mark graduated from the University of Western Toronto in 1935. After receiving his PhD in mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1938, Mark taught mathematics at the University of Manitoba and worked for the Montreal Laboratory of the Canadian Research Council until 1945, when he joined the Manhattan Project.
In the March 4, 1997, edition of the Laboratory's Daily Newsbulletin, then Laboratory Director Sig Hecker remembered Mark shortly after his death:
The Design of the Hydrogen Bomb and a Related Controversy
Mark's experience working for the Montreal Laboratory caught the attention of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who asked him to join the Manhattan Project in 1945 as a weapons designer. At the end of World War II, Mark elected to remain at Los Alamos, becoming the lead of T Division in 1947, a position he held until his retirement in 1973.
In 1949, the United States learned that the Soviet Union had developed their own atomic bomb. In response to this news, Edward Teller urged the US Government to study the feasibility of producing a so-called "superbomb," one using hydrogen. In 1950, President Harry S. Truman elected to pursue the development of a hydrogen bomb.
At Los Alamos, Teller began to recruit members for this endeavor. This collective, known as the "Family Committee," included Carson Mark. Mark was quick to tease Teller's initial concept for the H-bomb. In Teller's book Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics, Teller recalls how he reworked the concept of the hydrogen bomb:
In the television documentary "Race for the Superbomb," Richard Rhodes explained that it was Stan Ulam who eventually developed a suitable theory for the hydrogen bomb. Interestingly, in 1951 Ulam approached Mark about a possible design for a hydrogen bomb before he discussed the concept with Teller.
The controversy over who would be credited with inventing the hydrogen bomb would rage for many years. In Richard Rhodes, book Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, Mark weighed in on the controversy:
In 1952, Mark led the team that created a functional device based on the Ulam-Teller concept. On November 1, 1952, this device, codenamed "Mike," was tested in the Pacific. The detonation vaporized the entire Elugelab island, leaving behind a crater more than a mile wide.
The T-Division Transition Years
Becoming a US citizen during the 1950s, Mark conducted research at T Division in areas such as hydrodynamics, neutron physics, and transport theory. By the 1960s, most weapons development was no longer the purview of T Division, so Mark diversified the division,s research areas. This diversification led to collaborations with outside agencies and private industry.
In the March 4, 1997, edition of the Laboratory's Daily Newsbulletin, colleague Frank Harlow remembered that Mark enjoyed working in the computing arena:
Retiring in 1973, Mark continued his association with the Laboratory as a consultant. He also found time to consult for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and participated as a member of the American Mathematical Society and the American Physical Society. He became actively involved in issues related to disarmament and nonproliferation.
Carson Mark passed away on March 2, 1997. He is survived by his wife Kathleen Abbott Mark of Los Alamos, three daughters, three sons, 13 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.