John JungermanDecember 28th, 1921 to March 28th, 2014
"UC Davis nuclear physics lab founder, John Jungerman, dies"
May 5th, 2014
John Jungerman, founding director of the nuclear physics research laboratory at UC Davis who also worked on the classified project that developed the first atomic bomb, died at his home in Davis on March 28. He was 92.
Dr. Jungerman had received his bachelor's degree in physics and was working toward his doctorate at UC Berkeley when World War II began.
He wanted to join the Navy, but a faculty adviser encouraged him instead to work at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory for Ernest Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron and leader of a group of scientists trying to separate isotopes of uranium-235, a key step in building an atomic bomb.
Dr. Jungerman was 22 years old when he was recruited to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and later at Los Alamos, N.M., where the first atomic bombs were being designed and built.
After learning there would be a test explosion of the bomb, Dr. Jungerman and a couple of his friends sneaked onto the military-guarded test site in the desert of New Mexico.
On July 16, 1945, they witnessed the success of Trinity test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, as a giant mushroom cloud lit up the morning sky.
"It was a transformative experience in his life," said Dr. Jungerman's son, Eric Jungerman. "He had a mixture of this awestruck feeling about how this was going to be used, combined with excitement that they actually made it work."
Dr. Jungerman returned to Berkeley after the war and completed his doctorate in physics in 1949. He then went back to work at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory (now the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and later worked with famed nuclear physicist Hans Bethe at Cornell University.
In 1951, Dr. Jungerman became an early member of the physics department at UC Davis. He helped grow the fledgling department from a faculty of three to more than 50, and he was instrumental in developing a world-class nuclear physics research facility for the university's graduate program.
In the 1960s, his goal to build a research particle accelerator on campus was made possible with the help of Lawrence, who offered Dr. Jungerman parts from the Berkeley cyclotron.
The building housing the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory on the Davis campus has been renamed John A. Jungerman Hall, in honor of its founding director, in 2011.
Dr. Jungerman retired from UC Davis in 1991, becoming professor emeritus of physics and returned to teach his favorite courses for several years and develop new courses on nuclear arms control, society, and the environment for undergraduates and high school teachers.
During his career, Dr. Jungerman was interested in the relationship between physics and spiritual issues. In 1954, he became a founding member of the Unitarian Fellowship (later the Unitarian Universalist Church) of Davis. In 2000, the John Templeton Foundation awarded him $10,000 for his freshman science and religion course, "Modern Physics, Cosmology and Religions," and he later wrote a book on the subject.