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Sept. 12, 2002 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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Anthony Turkevich, Radiochemist, 1916-2002

University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Anthony Turkevich, a veteran of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb during World War II who later developed scientific instruments that identified what the moon and Mars are made of, died Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Kendal retirement community in Lexington, Va. He was 86. Funeral Services are scheduled for Sept. 13 at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pa.

Turkevich made a career of studying the physical and chemical composition of the universe. His research ranged from observing the fundamental properties of matter with particle accelerators to identifying the chemical composition of meteorites, the lunar surface and the planets. In 1950, for example, he teamed up with Nobel laureate and University of Chicago physicist Enrico Fermi to calculate the elements produced in the big bang.

“The first real analysis of another planet came from Turkevich’s alpha backscattering experiment on the moon,” said Gerald Wasserburg, the John MacArthur professor emeritus in geology and geophysics at the California Institute of Technology. As a researcher, Wasserburg said, Turkevich “was always deep, penetrating, with exquisite experimental skills and an incredible physical understanding.”

Turkevich was able to analyze the lunar soil with his alpha scattering instrument, which was carried aboard the robotic Surveyor V space probe, and which landed on the moon on Sept. 11, 1967. Turkevich and his team found basalt–volcanic rock–highly laced with titanium at the site. His analysis was based on a new method, and many scientists were initially skeptical of the results. But his findings were vindicated by the analysis of the Apollo 11 lunar samples, Wasserburg said.

Turkevich repeated his alpha scattering experiments on Surveyor VI, which landed Nov. 10, 1967, and Surveyor VII, which landed on Jan. 10, 1968, at different lunar locations.

A mechanical problem led to some tense moments during the Surveyor VII experiment, recalled Turkevich’s son, Leonid. Initially the spacecraft was unable to properly deploy Turkevich’s instrument.

Mission controllers successfully deployed the instrument by banging on it with a robotic claw that was designed to scrape soil from the lunar surface.

Turkevich later devised an instrument to detect poisonous lead in paint back on Earth that was similar in construction to the one that went to the moon. Yet another version of his instrument, the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer, successfully performed the first chemical analysis of martian rocks on board the Mars Pathfinder rover in 1997.

“His alpha scattering experiment is credited for the development of the backscattering spectrometry that is used today in every semiconductor laboratory,” said Thanasis (Tom) Economou, Senior Scientist at the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute.

“He was always selecting the most difficult and most exotic experiments because the easy ones could be done by anyone,” said Economou, who collaborated with Turkevich for 38 years. “His deep knowledge of radiochemistry was essential in accomplishing one of the most difficult experiments ever done in its field–the double beta decay of Uranium 238 from 1985 to 1991.”

The measurement added to the growing evidence that subatomic particles called neutrinos have mass. The finding was provocative because it ran against the grain of prevailing theory at the time, which held that neutrinos have no mass.

Turkevich was born in New York City on July 23, 1916, the son of a Russian Orthodox clergyman who came from czarist Russia to found the first Orthodox seminary in the United States in 1905, said Leonid Turkevich. Anthony Turkevich’s father was consecrated a bishop who, in 1950, as Metropolitan Leonty, became head of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States.

Turkevich earned his B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1937 and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Princeton in 1940. He worked as a research chemist in the University of Chicago Physics Department in 1940 and 1941.

During World War II, Turkevich was a member of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, first at Columbia University, then at the University of Chicago and finally at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico. This work led to his participation in the test of the first nuclear bomb at Alamagordo, N.M., in 1945.

“He made estimates of the power released when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that were really very accurate,” said Roger Hildebrand, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago.

Turkevich also served as a delegate to the Geneva Conference on Nuclear Test Suspension in 1958 and 1959.

He joined the University of Chicago faculty as an Assistant Professor in Chemistry in 1946. He was named the James Franck Distinguished Service Professor in 1970, and Professor Emeritus in 1986.

Turkevich’s awards include the E.O. Lawrence Memorial Award from the Atomic Energy Commission in 1962, the Ford Foundation’s Atoms for Peace Award in 1969, an honorary doctor of science degree from Dartmouth College in 1971, the Award for Nuclear Applications from the American Chemical Society in 1972 and the Boris Pregel Award from the New York Academy of Sciences in 1988. He was also elected to the National Academy of Sciences–one of the highest honors that can be accorded to a U.S. scientist–to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and as a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Turkevich is survived by his wife, Ireene, Lexington, Va.; his brother, Nicholas Turkevich, West Fairlee, Vt.; his daughter, Darya Carney, Grand Rapids, Mich.; his son, Leonid Turkevich, Alpharetta, Ga.; and three grandchildren, Elizabeth, Paul and Julia Turkevich, Alpharetta, Ga.

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Last modified at 12:28 PM CST on Friday, September 20, 2002.

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