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George Kistiakowsky

George Kistiakowsky's ID badge photo from Los Alamos.
Born November 18, 1900
Kiev, Russian Empire
Died December 7, 1982
Nationality Ukrainian-American
Ethnicity physics
Institutions Harvard
Alma mater University of Berlin
Known for Manhattan Project

George Bogdan Kistiakowsky (November 18, 1900 – December 7, 1982) (Russian: Георгий Богданович Кистяковский) was a Ukrainian-American[1] chemistry professor at Harvard who participated in the Manhattan Project and later served as President Eisenhower's Science Advisor. Born in Kiev, in the Kiev Governorate of the Russian Empire (in present day Ukraine), he attended private schools in Kiev and Moscow until the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917. He then joined the anti-Communist White Army serving in the infantry and tank corps.[1] In 1920 he escaped to Yugoslavia and then on to Germany.


Early career

In 1925, he earned his PhD in Physical chemistry from the University of Berlin. In 1926, he came to the United States and taught at Princeton University for two years, and then joined the faculty of Harvard University, an affiliation that continued through his career.

At Harvard, his research interests were in thermodynamics, spectroscopy, and chemical kinetics. He became increasingly involved in consulting to the government and industry. After the start of WWII, he headed the National Defense Research Committee's Explosives Division.

Manhattan Project

He joined the Manhattan Project in 1944, replacing Seth Neddermeyer as head of the implosion department. Under his leadership came the complex explosive lenses needed to compress the plutonium sphere uniformly to achieve critical mass.

In addition to the work on implosion, he contributed to skiing in Los Alamos by using rings of explosives to fell trees for a ski slope - leading to the establishment of Sawyer's Hill Ski Tow Association.[1]

White House Service

During the Eisenhower Administration served on the President's Science Advisory committee for several years, becoming the Science Advisor to the President in 1959. After the Kennedy Inauguration, he was still consulted. He directed the Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1959 to 1961, and was succeeded by Jerome B. Wiesner.

Eisenhower Administration

In 1958, Kistiakowsky suggested to President Eisenhower that inspection of foreign military facilities was not sufficient to control their nuclear weapons. He cited the difficulty in monitoring missile submarines, and proposed that the arms control strategy focus on disarmament rather than inspections [2]. Subsequently as part of arms control planning and negotiation, he suggested, in January 1960, the "threshold concept". Under this proposal, all nuclear tests above the level of seismic detection technology would be forbidden. After that agreement, the US and USSR would work jointly to improve detection technology, revising the permissible test yield downward as techniques improved. This example of the "national means of technical verification", a euphemism for sensitive intelligence collection used in arms control, would provide safeguards, without raising the on-site inspection requirement to a level unacceptable to the Soviets.

The US introduced the threshold concept to the Soviets at the Geneva arms control conference in January 1960, and the Soviets, in March, responded favorably, suggesting a threshold of a given seismic magnitude. Talks broke down as a result of the U-2 Crisis of 1960 in May.

At the same time as the early nuclear arms control work, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, GEN Nathan F. Twining, USAF, sent a memorandum[3], in August 1959, to the Secretary of Defense, Neil McElroy, which suggested that the Strategic Air Command formally be assigned responsibility to prepare the national nuclear target list, and a single plan for nuclear operations. Up to that point, the Army, Navy, and Air Force had done their own target planning. That had led to individual targets being multiply targeted by the different services. The separate service plans were not mutually supporting, as, for example, by the Navy destroying an air defense facility on the route of an Air Force bomber going to a deeper target. While Twining had sent the memo to McElroy, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagreed on the policy during early 1960 [4] [5]. Thomas Gates, who succeeded McElroy, asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower to decide the policy.[6]

Eisenhower said he would not "leave his successor with the monstrosity" of the uncoordinated and un-integrated forces that then existed. He sent Kistiakowsky, in early November 1960, to the SAC Headquarters in Omaha to evaluate the SAC war plans. (McKinzie2001) Initially, Kistiakowsky was not given access, and Eisenhower sent him back, with a much stronger set of orders. The orders gave SAC officers the choice to cooperate with Kistiakowsky, or resign.

Kistiaknowsky's report, presented on November 29, described uncoordinated plans with huge numbers of targets, many of which would be attacked by multiple forces, resulting in overkill. Eisenhower was shocked by the plans, and focused not just on the creation of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), but on the entire process of picking targets, generating requirements, and planning for nuclear war operations.

Kennedy Administration

In the Kennedy Administration, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy wrote to John F. Kennedy, on January 31, 1961, that there needed to be a "review of basic military policy. What is our view of the kind of strategic force we need, the kinds of limited-war forces, the kind of defense for the continental U.S., and the strategy of NATO?" [7] Bundy proposed that Kistiakowsky conduct scientific evaluation of Air Force nuclear plans, which Bundy suggested that Air Force planning is based on very doubtful technical judgments on the damage that will be done by given weapons exploded on given targets.He proposed Kistiakowsky do this study, "and the result might show that we need much less expensive plans than we now have."

Later career

After the Manhattan Project, and then after his White House service, he was a professor of physical chemistry at Harvard for the rest of his career.

From 1962 to 1965, he chaired the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) [8].

In later years he was active in an antiwar organization, the Council for a Livable World [9]. According to the Council biography of Kistiakowsky, "Kistiakowsky became increasingly doubtful about the possibility of changing politics from within the administrative channels in Washington. In 1968, Kistiakowsky severed his connections with the Pentagon to protest US involvement in Vietnam. After retiring from Harvard as professor emeritus in 1972, Kistiakowsky became even more involved in political activism in the areas of de-escalating the arms race and banning nuclear weapons. In 1977, he assumed the chairmanship of the Council for Livable World, campaigning to de-escalate the arms race and reorient the domestic political agenda."


  • Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Priestley Medal of the American Chemical Society.


  1. ^ a b World of Chemistry on George B. Kistiakowsky. Retrieved on 2008-06-05
  2. ^ "Space Policy Project (summary of Foreign Relations of the US, text not online)", Foreign Relations of the United States 1958-1960, National Security Policy; Arms Control and Disarmament, Volume III, Washington, DC: US Department of State (summary by Federation of American Scientists), 1961, FRUS58,  
  3. ^ Twining, Nathan F. (20 August 1959). "Document 2: J.C.S. 2056/131, Notes by the Secretaries to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, enclosing memorandum from JCS Chairman Nathan Twining to Secretary of Defense, "Target Coordination and Associated Problems,"" (PDF). The Creation of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 130. George Washington University National Security Archive. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  4. ^ Twining, Nathan F. (5 October 1959). "Document 3A: JCS 2056/143, Note by the Secretaries to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 5 October 1959, enclosing Memorandum for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Target Coordination and Associated Problems,"" (PDF). The Creation of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 130. George Washington University National Security Archive. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  5. ^ Burke, Arleigh (30 September 1959). "Document 3B: attached memorandum from Chief of Naval Operations" (PDF). The Creation of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 130. George Washington University National Security Archive. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  6. ^ McKinzie, Matthew G.; Cochran, Thomas B. (2001) (PDF), The U.S. Nuclear War Plan: A Time for Change, Chapter Two: The Single Integrated Operational Plan and U.S. Nuclear Forces, National Resources Defense Council, McKinzie2001,  
  7. ^ Bundy, McGeorge (1961), "Memorandum for the President: Policies previously approved in NSC which need review", Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume VIII, National Security Policy, Washington, DC: US Department of State, pp. 9,  
  8. ^ "Origins of COSEPUP". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  9. ^ Council for a Livable World. "Legacy". Retrieved 2007-09-22.  

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