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Science History Podcast

Dec 11, 2021

Today’s episode marks the four-year anniversary of the Science History Podcast, where we have explored all manner of science and relevant policy spanning from gravitational waves to bioterrorism. So it is fitting that today’s guest, Dick Garwin, has worked on just about every major scientific and technology problem with a defense application since just after the Second World War, ranging from the first thermonuclear weapon in 1951 all the way to the U.S. response to pandemics. Today we discuss it all, including space nuclear detonations and electromagnetic pulses, spy satellites, anti-submarine warfare, sequential memory for computers, magnetic resonance imaging, laser printers, touch-screen monitors, nuclear weapons testing, nuclear reactor accidents, Ebola, the Iraq War, the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill, and even gravitational waves. Dick was born in Ohio in 1928. He received a BS in physics from Case Institute of Technology in 1947 at the age of 19, and then a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1949, at the age of 21. Two years later, in 1951, for a summer project at Los Alamos, he designed the first hydrogen bomb. Dick joined the IBM Corporation in 1952, where for over 40 years he helped to design diverse technology with military applications. He also held numerous posts in universities and at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, in addition to advising presidents on science and technology, from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon. He also served on various technical committees for subsequent American administrations, all the way through to the Obama presidency. Dick has published over 500 papers and been granted 47 U.S. patents. He also coauthored many books, including Nuclear Weapons and World Politics (1977), Nuclear Power Issues and Choices (1977), Energy: the Next Twenty Years (1979), Science Advice to the President (1980), Managing the Plutonium Surplus: Applications and Technical Options (1994), and Megawatts and Megatons: A Turning Point in the Nuclear Age? (2001). Dick is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine. Dick received too many awards to list them all here, but they include the 2003 National Medal of Science, awarded by President George W. Bush, and the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Barack Obama. In sum, he is a treasure of 20th Century American science, and I hope you enjoy this opportunity to hear his thoughts as we tour the last 70 years of science, technology and policy.