Raemer Edgar Schreiber, or "Schreib," as his friends called him, found his wartime experience working alongside the cream of the world's scientists at Los Alamos to be a heady experience and decided to stay and work for Laboratory Director Norris Bradbury after World War II. Although he did not expect to work at the Laboratory permanently, he remained until his retirement in 1974, after serving as the Lab's deputy director for two years.
Schreiber came to Los Alamos in November 1943 from Purdue University, where he had been a research associate at the Purdue Research Foundation. Born in 1910 in McMinnville, Oregon, he received his master's degree from the University of Oregon and completed his PhD in 1941 at Purdue.
When he arrived at Los Alamos, Schreiber and some others from Purdue went to work on the Water Boiler Reactor, which went critical in May of 1944; it was the first reactor to go critical using enriched uranium. He continued to work on improved reactor models until April 1945, when he became a member of the pit assembly team for the Trinity test.
Close Encounters with Dramatic Nuclear Events
Just ten days later, Schreiber sat in a military sedan headed to Kirtland Field in Albuquerque where a box (actually the plutonium core of the Nagasaki bomb Fat Man) was positioned in the sedan trunk for transfer to a C-54 cargo plane headed with Schreiber to Tinian Island in the Pacific. In an Albuquerque Journal series, "Trinity: 50 Years Later," commemorating the 50th anniversary of the atomic bomb, author Larry Calloway interviewed Schreiber about his dramatic wartime experiences. Schreiber recalled:
After arriving on Tinian Island on July 28, Schreiber delivered his box and helped assemble the rest of the bomb parts brought by other members of the group of Los Alamos scientists. A few days later, on August 9, 1945, Fat Man was exploded over Nagasaki, an action that many felt actually saved lives that would have been lost through continued U.S. firebombing. Schreiber compared the number of firebombing casualties that could be as high as the 100,000 killed in one night of conventional bombing to the casualties from the atomic bombs:
Comments on the U.S. Atomic Bombing
Another Close Encounter
Though Slotin had done this experiment several times before, this time the screwdriver he was using slipped, the cores moved together, and a supercritical event occurred, exposing Schreiber, Slotin, and five other witnesses to ionizing radiation. Slotin pulled the spheres apart, a heroic act that caused him to die a few days later from radiation poisoning but saved the lives of the other six men in that room.
As a result of the accident, further critical assembly test were conducted by remote control, and Schreiber became a leader in developing remote-handling technology at Los Alamos. He went on to lead the pit assembly team at Operation Crossroads in June and July of 1946.
Green Light for the Hydrogen Bomb
In 1955 Schreiber became the leader of the Nuclear Rocket Propulsion (N) Division. The primary responsibility of N Division was the Rover program that developed rockets based on reactors that would power long, interplanetary missions not able to be carried out by conventional rocket-propulsion technology. In this capacity, he met John F. Kennedy during the President's 1962 visit to Los Alamos. That same year he became technical associate director of the Laboratory and deputy director in 1972.
Publications and Awards
After his death in 1998, the Laboratory's Advanced Nuclear Technology Group (NIS-6) named its conference room the Raemer E. Schreiber Room in honor of Schreiber's contributions to nuclear criticality research.