Another boy and the bomb

by John Dudley ’95

WHEN YOU ARE WORKING on an article about a secret government program (and you're not Woodward and Bernstein), I guess it's normal to miss one or two people. You don't like it, but it happens. Such was the case with the July 2010 article "Our Boys and the Bomb." When researching for this article, I missed Dr. Thomas W. Williams, Sr. '38, a classmate and friend of Dr. Russell Fox '38. Ironically, Dr. Fox had mentioned Dr. Williams in remarks we quoted, describing him as a fellow graduate student at the University of Virginia, but not as a fellow Hampden-Sydney alumnus. Herewith, the credit he is due.

Tom Williams
Tom Williams ’38 (center) adjusting equipment at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics lab.
Tom Williams, like Russ Fox, was a physics graduate student during the early years of World War II. Both students had their master's theses marked classified for more than 25 years. Williams told The Virginia Gazette in a 1981 interview that if he had been successful in his work on the separation of uranium isotopes "my experiment would have blown up."

Officially, Williams worked for Westinghouse as he developed the mass spectrometer for the detection of leaks during irradiation, but he took his orders from the Federal government. Williams told the Gazette he was uncomfortable with the military application of nuclear science and the level of secrecy within Westinghouse. "Not even the president of the company knew," said Williams. "One day he came into our lab, and even though we had an elaborate cover story to explain our set up, I couldn't stick around. I just walked out and left my assistant to do the talking." He left Westinghouse shortly after the end of the War.

Williams became a scientific adviser for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Langley Field, which would become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). His career continued to rise as a senior-level scientist for many governmental and military agencies around Washington, D.C. He enjoyed singing and music and appeared in a number of theatrical performances in his retirement.

Many Hampden-Sydney alumni have gone on to do extraordinary things. Dr. Williams and his fellow Tigers in The Manhattan Project stand out among the crowd for their mastery of science, devotion to their work, and duty to our country.