Edwin Mattison McMillan is the son of Dr. Edwin Harbaugh McMillan, a physician, and Anna Marie (Mattison) McMillan, both from the state of Maryland and both of Scotch and English descent. He was born on September 18, 1907, in Redondo Beach, California, and grew up in Pasadena, California. In 1941 he married Elsie Walford Blumer, daughter of Dr. George Blumer, dean emeritus of the Yale Medical School; they have three children: Ann Bradford, David Mattison, and Stephen Walker.
He attended the California Institute of Technology (B.S. 1928, M.S. 1929) and Princeton University (Ph.D. 1932), and went to the University of California at Berkeley as a National Research Fellow in 1932. After two years as a research fellow and one as a research associate, he became a member of the faculty in the Department of Physics at Berkeley (instructor, 1935; assistant professor, 1936; associate professor, 1941; professor, 1946). He was away on leave of absence from November 1940 to September 1945, engaged in national defense research. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1947, and received the Research Corporation's 1950 Scientific Award in 1951.
His thesis was in the field of molecular beams, and the problem he
undertook as a National Research Fellow was the measurement of the magnetic
moment of the proton by a molecular beam method; however, after this
quantity had been determined elsewhere, he transferred his activities
to nuclear physics, entering the Radiation Laboratory of Professor E.0.
Lawrence in 1934. There he engaged in studies of nuclear reactions and
their products and helped in the design and construction of cyclotrons
and other equipment. At that laboratory in 1939 and 1940 he did the
work for which he received half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for
1951. In 1945, while away from Berkeley on leave of absence, he had
the idea of "phase stability", which led to the development
of the synchrotron and synchro-cyclotron; these machines have already
extended the energies of artificially accelerated particles into the
region of hundreds of MeV and have made possible many important researches.
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