Lawrence Johnston

A few years ago a friend of mine and I were talking about nuclear bombs and he said something about all the scientists involved with the development of “The Bomb” were now dead. I told him, “No. Johnston is still alive.” “Who is Johnston?” Johnston, I told him, was the guy that invented the detonators. After the war he was a physics professor at the University of Idaho and still lives in Moscow. I’m not sure my friend really believed me. Why would someone with a background like that end up in a backwater college like the U of I? I disputed this. The U of I has done quite well for itself and has nothing to be ashamed of—well, except for perhaps Larry “Wide Stance” Craig. Other famous graduates or professors include Sarah Palin in the class of 1987, Dan O’Brien (class of ’93), and Margrit Von Braun (daughter of Wernher von Braun).

Back to Johnston—I got my undergraduate degree at the U of I and took several physics classes there. But none of them were with Johnston even though he was there at the time (’67 –> ’88). But I would occasionally see mention of him in the news and I was proud to have him in my home town.

Last week wife and physical therapist Barbara called me up and excitedly asked me, “Do you know who I have as my patient?” “No. You don’t tell me that information unless you get permission from the patient and you haven’t done that for several weeks now.” My taking her literally somehow didn’t damping her spirits as it usually does and she went on to tell me that it was one of the scientist who worked on the first atomic bomb. “Johnston?”, I asked. “Yes. How did you know?”, her spirits finally dampened a tad. “Because he is the only one left and he lives in Moscow”, I explained.

She went on to tell me he gave her permission to talk to me about him, he was a really nice guy, is 92 years old, is the only person to have witnessed all three of the first atomic bomb explosions (he was in the observation planes over Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and he would be interested to exchange email with me. “Uhhh…. WOW!” was about all I could say.

I did exchange email with him and he sent me a presentation he made at Los Alamos a few years ago about his experiences developing and deploying the first nuclear bombs. I found it fascinating. My QOTD tomorrow will come from that presentation. And despite the detailed info in the presentation about the explosives and detonators used and the requests for “upgrading” beyond chemical explosives at Boomershoot I have no plans to pursue that particular line of experiments at this time.

Thank you Barbara and Professor Johnston.

Mildred and Lawrence Johnston


14 thoughts on “Lawrence Johnston

  1. Dear Sir:

    I wanted to open the Los Alamos presentation, but then thought — will this cost me my security clearance? Maybe you could have labeled it, “Unclassified”??


  2. People would be suprised at how many brilliant scientists are are in backwater places. I had an engineering class from a professor at Texas A&M who had been a rocket designer for the British during WWII. He had retired 10 years before, then a couple years later his wife dies, he was lonely and bored and went back to teaching. He was great!

  3. Places like North Idaho are where you dream of going after you’ve “graduated” from the congested areas. People who can’t imagine themselves ever being able to make such a move are the jealous ones who find they have to insult the “backwater” folks with bigoted trash talk.

  4. DC Handgun Info,

    Of course it is unclassified. And you don’t put your security clearance at risk from viewing classified material. Only from releasing it to people without clearance and a need to know.

  5. You may want to consider changing the background image on “Project Ethylene Glycol” page. It’s a neat picture, but it makes the text very difficult to read.

    Also, the web designer in me cringes at tiled background images. 😉

  6. Wow, what a privilege to talk to someone with those experiences and that knowledge.

  7. I used to know a guy who went to high school in Huns-ville with the Von Braun girls. He claimed they could speak German with an Alabama accent in such a way as to quite literally make one ROFL.

  8. I downloaded the presentation, and just finished reading it. It was wonderful. I thank you very much, as a fellow pyromaniac. (all real boys are pyromaniacs)

  9. So. Awesome. My dad would have been in the invasion force had Japan not surrendered so I thank Prof. Johnston from the bottom of my heart.

  10. Wernher von Braun: Somewhere around here, I have a flyer for a speech von Braun gave to a group here in Southern California. Women were not allowed to attend. (It’s printed right on the flyer.)

    Funny how things change over time.

  11. All I can say is: That is awesome! I would love to talk to him about his experiences. I wonder if he has plans for a book or has a book?

  12. My Junior High School Physics Teacher worked on the Manhattan Project. He was a sweet heart of a guy but the toughest darn teacher ever.

    Prof. Johnston is responsible for my wife. Her dad was prepping for the invasion as well. Dr. Johnston’s work saved alot of lives and in a way created new ones.

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