EUGENE, Ore. - Aaron Novick, a developer of the atomic bomb who later became an advocate for arms control, died of pneumonia on Thursday after a long fight with Parkinson's disease. He was 81.
Mr. Novick, a Toledo native, helped usher in the nuclear age with his work on the atomic bomb. It was a project he later regretted, one that drove him to a career in the genetics of bacteria and to the leadership of the University of Oregon's Institute of Molecular Biology.
“Aaron was like a friend and a father to me,” said Franklin W. Stahl, a professor of biology whom Mr. Novick recruited to the Oregon institute in its early years. “I think his life's major achievement was the wisdom in which he guided this institute. He went for a model of an intellectual commune, where ideas could be aggressively shared between research groups.”
Mr. Novick was born on June 24, 1919, to Polish immigrants. His father was a tailor. His mother was unable to read or write in any language. When he was 7, he helped his family by selling newspapers.
The young Aaron knew he wanted to be a scientist and built his first telescope before he turned 12. During the summer of 1936, before his senior year at Woodward High School, he and his brother Meyer used a homemade telescope to watch the Peltier comet, the only Toledoans to do so. Later that year the brothers built a telescope for which they had ground their own lens, a 61/2-inch diameter glass that took more than 15 hours to fashion.
Mr. Novick, who also played on Woodward's football team and edited the student newspaper, was elected to the school's hall of fame in 1986.
Mr. Novick attended the University of Chicago, where he received an undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1940 and a doctorate in physical organic chemistry in 1943.
He went to work on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. In the early hours of July 16, 1945, Mr. Novick watched as the atomic bomb was tested for the first time in the New Mexico desert.
"I will never forget the sight of that explosion. The thing is really terrific," Mr. Novick told his parents in a letter.
Mr. Novick was shocked when the atomic bomb was used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His revulsion at the devastation - he strongly believed a demonstration of the bomb would have led Japan to surrender - prompted him to seek a new scientific career.
Mr. Novick is survived by two sons, David of El Paso, Texas, and Adam of Eugene, Ore.
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