March 5, 1999


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Glenn Seaborg was a renaissance man, a public figure whose contributions ranged from research to teaching, from service to his laboratory and campus to service to his country.  These quotations from Seaborg help flesh out the breadth of his life.

On genius and work:

In 1934, Seaborg attended Berkeley as a graduate student and quickly found himself in competition with his fellow students.  Later he recalled the time: "Surrounded by dazzlingly bright students, I was uncertain I could make the grade. But taking heart in Edison's dictum that genius is 99 per cent perspiration, I discovered a pedestrian secret of success. I could work harder than most of them.''

On education, as quoted in the New York Times:

"The education of young people in science is at least as important, maybe more so, than the research itself."

On being appointed UC Berkeley chancellor in 1958, reassuring the faculty that his interests extended beyond science:

"There is a beauty in discovery. There is mathematics in music, a kinship of science and poetry in the description of nature, and exquisite form in a molecule. Attempts to place different disciplines in different camps are revealed as artificial in the face of the unity of knowledge. All literate men are sustained by the philosopher, the historian, the political analyst, the economist, the scientist, the poet, the artisan and the musician."

From "A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational
Reform," which Seaborg co-authored in 1983:

"Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world ... the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and as a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur -- others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

"If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves ... We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament."

On the 1941 discovery of plutonium:

"I was a 28-year-old kid and I didn't stop to ruminate about it," he told the Associated Press in a 1947 interview. "I didn't think, 'My God, we've changed the history of the world!'"

From a 1985 interview:

"You have to separate the use of radioisotopes from the development of nuclear weapons. Nature made nuclear weapons possible, and so it was in our national interest to be in the forefront with the atomic bomb. We had no choice. I see no advantage for Hitler to have gotten the bomb first. But if you're asking me, do I wish the laws of nature were such that it would not have been possible to make nuclear weapons, my answer is: God, yes."

On the future:

"The modern technological world appears overwhelming to many people. It drives some to pessimism and despair. It makes others doubt the future of mankind unless we retreat to simpler lives and even to the ways of our ancestors. What these people fail to realize is that we cannot go back to those ways and those days. Furthermore, for all our difficulties, life today is far better for more people and the possibilities for the future can be brighter than ever if we develop not only new knowledge, but a greater faith and confidence in the human mind and spirit."

Further Information about Glenn Seaborg: