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George Bogdan Kistiakowsky

George Bogdan Kistiakowsky was born on 18 November 1900 in Kiev, Ukraine, a province of Russia at the time. He attended private schools in Kiev and Moscow until the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, at which time he joined the infantry and tank corps of the White Army. When the Bolsheviks assumed power in Russia, Kistiakowsky spent a year in concentration camps in Turkey and the Balkans, then fled to Germany. He studied physical chemistry at the University of Berlin, earning his doctorate in 1925. The following year Kistiakowsky came to the United States, where he taught at Princeton for two years. He joined the faculty at Harvard University in 1930.

While teaching at Harvard, Kistiakowsky applied his expertise in thermodynamics, spectroscopy, and chemical kinetics to military research, corporate consulting, and political advising. During World War II, Kistiakowsky served as chief of the National Defense Research Committee's Explosives Division.

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In January 1944, Kistiakowsky joined the Manhattan Project, replacing Seth Neddermeyer as head of the implosion program. He oversaw 600 people on the development of a triggering device to detonate the atomic bomb-explosive lenses that uniformly compress the plutonium sphere to achieve critical mass.

Kistiakowsky returned to Harvard at the end of World War II and divided his time between teaching and advising several US administrations on arms control and foreign policy. He served on the President's Science Advisory Committee between 1957 and 1964, and as the Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology from 1959 to 1961. In 1958, Kistiakowsky was a member of the US delegation to Geneva, where the US and USSR discussed how to minimize the danger of a surprise nuclear attack.

Kistiakowsky was concerned with public policy and the allocation of government resources. He worked to influence these arenas through the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), serving as chairman of its Committee on Science and Public Policy from 1962 to 1965, and as vice-president of NAS from 1965 to 1973.

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.

Kistiakowsky received numerous awards throughout his lifetime for his work in science and in politics, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Joseph Priestly Award of the American Chemical Society.

George Bogdan Kistiakowsky died on December 7, 1982.