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Robert S. Mulliken
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Scientist
    (June 6, 1896-October 31, 1986)
    Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts
    Professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Chicago (1961-85)
    Used quantum mechanics to explain how electron orbitals change as atoms combine to form molecules
    Awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1966)
    Early on, he wanted to be a philosopher: ‘Then I got hold of a book on philosophy and I found that all the philosophers, every one, had entirely different ideas, no two could agree. I concluded they were all wrong and science was obviously much preferable.’
    During World War I, he served in the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service, synthesizing poison gas.
    He suffered burns when he mishandled mustard gas. (‘It’s not a very nice thing to play with.’)
    When he first learned about quantum mechanics, he called it ‘a disorganized chaos.’
    When he joined the National Academy of Science, he was the youngest member in the organization’s history at the time (1928).
    When he was 74, he spent a summer at IBM’s San Jose lab, where he learned how to write computer programs.
    He was one of 72 living Nobel laureates to file a friend of the court brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down as unconstitutional a Louisiana law mandating that ‘creation science’ be taught along with evolution (1986).

Credit: C. Fishel


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