NYTimes – 1st UCLA Nobel Laureate

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Professor Willard Libby, the first UCLA faculty to be recognized with a Nobel Prize, was recently featured in a historical piece in the New York Times.

In 1959 Prof. Libby joined the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and in 1960 he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his method to use carbon 14 for age determination in archaeology, geology, geophysics and other branches of science. 

Prof. Libby became the founding director of UCLA’s Space Physics Center in 1962 and he founded the Environmental Science and Engineering program in 1973. 

Libby NYT Montage

in 1960 Chemistry Professor Willard F. Libby became the first UCLA professor to be recognized with a Nobel Prize.

Other Notable UCLA Nobel Laureates
Professor Donald Cram received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1987 and Professor Paul Boyer received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1997.

UCLA Alumni who have been honored as Nobel Laureates are Dr. Glenn Seaborg (BS ’34) for Chemistry in 1951, Dr. Bruce Merrifield (BS ’47, PhD ’49) for Chemistry in 1984, Dr. Richard F. Heck (BS ’52, PhD ’54) for Chemistry in 2010 and Prof. Randy W. Schekman (BA ’71) for Physiology or Medicine in 2013.  

Excerpt from

The New York Times (Science | First Mention)

(by Nicholas Bakalar):

Digging Up the Root of Carbon Dating

The discovery of the principle behind carbon dating was reported in The New York Times two years before its remarkable implications were widely understood.

On Dec. 28, 1947, in a roundup of the year’s events in atomic physics, Waldemar Kaempffert wrote that “Prof. Willard F. Libby and his colleagues discovered that radioactive carbon 14 is produced by cosmic rays and that there is enough of it in all living matter to constitute one of the most important sources of radiation to which the human body is exposed.”

Two years later, the importance of the discovery had become clear. “Scientist Stumbles Upon Method to Fix Age of Earth’s Material” read the headline of an unsigned article on Page 29 of The Times on Sept. 6, 1949, marking the first time that readers learned of radiocarbon dating.

The article said that Dr. Libby, a 40-year-old chemistry professor at the University of Chicago, “stumbled on the technique two years ago when studying cosmic ray action on the atmosphere.” Then it offered a brief explanation of the method, saying that living materials contain radioactive carbon that decays after death at a known rate, and that this rate can be used to determine with great accuracy when a plant or animal died.

“We have reason to believe that ages up to 15,000 to 20,000 years can be measured with some accuracy,” Dr. Libby told The Times.

Read the full article here.