From the Archives | Theodore “Ted” P. Jorgensen

Apr 14th, 2010 | By | Category: April 15, 2010, From the Archives, Issue

Theodore “Ted” P. Jorgensen was a University of Nebraska physics graduate and professor who worked on the Manhattan Project for three years and seven months. He also studied golf for 30 years before writing “The Physics of Golf.”

Jorgensen earned a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics from NU in 1928, then a masters in physics in 1930. In 1935, he earned a doctorate in physics from Harvard University. His first faculty post was as an instructor at Harvard (1935-36). He also worked as an assistant professor at Clark University (1936-38) before returning to NU (1938-75).

During World War II, Jorgensen joined the Manhattan Project to work on the development of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, N.M. He was there from 1943 to 1946. His duties included working on a method of measuring the explosions of the bomb.

Jorgensen wrote about his time at Los Alamos. He reported an account of the first atomic blast, which took place about one month before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

“The observation bunker six miles west of the tower was built of heavy timber covered by sand and gravel of the desert,” Jorgensen wrote. “There were small openings toward the tower for photographic purposes and there was an opening on the west side of the bunker about the size of a garage door.

Theodore P. Jorgensen
Physics professor Theodore “Ted” P. Jorgensen works on a piece of equipment in Behlen Laboratory in this undated photo. Jorgensen graduated from and taught at the University of Nebraska and worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II.

“I stood with my back to the wall opposite the door and waited for the countdown to reach zero. When the explosion occurred, the desert to the west of the bunker was illuminated by light from the bomb making the scene appear much brighter than it would be at high noon on sunny day. The heat reflected from the desert on beyond made my face feel like I was looking into an open furnace door. The shock should have come some 30 seconds after the explosion, but I did not hear it. Others reported the same thing. Shortly thereafter, we all hurried out of the bunker to see the fireball with all of its fine colors gradually cooling as it rose higher and higher and changed into the mushroom shaped cloud.”

After the explosion, Jorgensen found a fully loaded .45-caliber pistol on the ground. He picked it up and returned to the main office at Los Alamos.

“That is the only gun I held in my hands during the war: it was such a puny weapon compared to the one we had just demonstrated,” Jorgensen wrote.

He returned to NU as an associate professor in 1946, advancing to full professor in 1950. During his tenure, Jorgensen supervised the construction of an atomic accelerator at NU. The project signaled the beginning of the university’s internationally recognized atomic collisions program. The accelerator was in a sub-basement of Behlen Laboratory. However, it was removed to make room for the Diocles laser.

Jorgensen was chair of Physics and Astronomy from 1949 to 1953. He retired April 11, 1975, and was 100 years old when he died April 4, 2006.



“From the Archives” is a regular Scarlet column. Photos and historical information provided by the University Archives. Suggest topics to Troy Fedderson at tfedderson2@unl.edu or 472-8515.

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