Philosophical Society of Washington

Science in the Service of the State

Magic Bullets, Medical Research and Wartime Human Radiation Experiments

Greg Herken
Historian and Curator of Military Space, National Air and Space Museum

2094th Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 23, 1998 at 8:15 PM


In early 1994, newspaper accounts of World War II-era radiation experiments on American citizens prompted the White House to establish an Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) to investigate and report on these events. Most famous, or notorious, of the experiments was the tale of 18 patients injected with plutonium at hospitals in Oak Ridge, Chicago, Rochester, and San Francisco between 1945—47. As one of the historians detailed to ACHRE to uncover the truth behind the allegations, Gregg Herken will talk about what the committee discovered, focussing upon the three plutonium injections carried out at the University of California's hospital in San Francisco.

About the Author:

Gregg Herken received his PhD in American diplomatic history from Princeton University in 1974, and subsequently taught at Oberlin, Yale, and Caltech. Since joining the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in 1988, he has served as chairman of the Department of Space History and is currently the curator of military space. During 1994-95, he was on detail to the U.S. Department of Energy as a senior research analyst for ACHRE.

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