Donald Hornig, A-bomb scientist, dies at 92

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Donald F. Hornig, a scientist who served as a key figure on the Manhattan Project, an adviser to three U.S. presidents and president of Brown University, has died. He was 92.

Hornig died Monday, his son, Chris Hornig, said Wednesday. He had lived in Providence with his wife for the past several years and suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Horning, a Harvard-trained physical chemist, worked from 1944 to 1946 on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos Laboratory, which developed the atomic bomb during World War II. He was one of the youngest group leaders and designed the firing unit that triggered the simultaneous implosion of the bomb's plutonium device.

Hornig sat in a tower with the bomb the night before the first test of the weapon amid a thunder and lightning storm. In a 1968 interview that is held at Lyndon B. Johnson Library, he recalled the moment the bomb was detonated.

"The minute . . . I knew it had detonated, I dashed out the door in time to see the fireball rising into the sky," he said. "I was awestruck, just literally awestruck. This thing was more fantastic than anything I had ever imagined." After the war, he joined Brown as a chemistry professor in 1946. He moved to Princeton in 1957.

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Hornig served as a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy and then as special assistant to the president for science and technology for Johnson.

He was named Brown's president in 1970 and assumed leadership of a school in poor financial shape. By the time he left in 1976, the school was restored to financial health.

His son said he was able to achieve what he did out of a love of learning and of patriotism and that much of his life was about applying science to solve problems.

"He led this amazing life through the power of his intellect and his curiosity," Chris Horning said. "Much of his life really was in the end about how do you apply science to solving problems?"

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