Pioneer of atom bomb dies

Source:Global Times Published: 2011-2-28 8:51:00

Flowers from mourners are seen near a photo of the renowned physicist Zhu Guangya in Beijing Sunday. Zhu died Saturday at the age of 87. Photo: Ge Lili

By Pan Yan and Ge Lili

Zhu Guangya, a nuclear physicist whose pioneering research contributed to the development of China's first atom and hydrogen bombs in the 1960s, died Saturday at age 87 in Beijing.

Zhu's long career covered several decades including stints as a senior academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. He served as vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body, between 1994 and 2003.

Zhu Guangya's son, Zhu Mingyuan, told the Global Times Sunday that he admired his father's attitude to his work the most.

"His colleagues said they had never met someone like my father who was so serious and careful with his work," Zhu Mingyuan said Sunday. "He would rectify any wrong characters and punctuations while reading a document."

The son said his father's students would carry on his work and mission.

Zhu was born in Yichang, Hubei Province in 1924 and later moved to Wuhan with his family. He developed an interest in physics in high school and was recommended to the physics department at Southwest Associated University (SAU) in Kunming, Yunnan Province, the best university during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).

In the fall of 1945, the US military indicated they would not object to China making its own atom bomb.


Chiang Kai-shek, Kuomingtang leader at the time, ordered senior Kuomingtang officials Chen Cheng and Yu Dawei to recruit talented people to develop the bomb.

Lifelong mission

Chen and Yu found Wu Dayou, Hua Luogeng and Zeng Zhaolun, all famous scientists who were teaching at SAU. Each picked two assistants that could study in the US. Wu chose Zhu and Tsung-Tao Lee, a Chinese-born American physicist who won Nobel Prize in 1957.

Zhu attended the University of Michigan, Wu's alma mater. Zhu was a top student and won a scholarship. Zhu obtained a PhD in nuclear physics in 1950 at the university.

Zhu was urging overseas Chinese students to return to their motherland after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. He drafted an open letter calling all Chinese students in the US to go back to China to work, which resonated with Chinese students and scholars there. In February 1950, Zhu returned to China.

Zhu taught physics at Peking University from 1950 to 1952 and at the People's University of Northeast China (now Jilin University) from 1953 to 1955. During 1952 to 1953, he served during the Korean War (1950-53) as an interpreter.

In 1955, faced with a nuclear threat from the US, then chairman Mao Zedong decided to develop the atom bomb with help from the Soviet Union.

Zhu returned to Peking University to become the vice director of the physics research office which was responsible for cultivating talents to develop the technology needed to build the bomb.



In the fall of 1958, a nuclear reactor and accelerator built with assistance from the Soviet Union was formally handed over to China, signaling the birth of the first comprehensive research base for the atom bomb in the country.

However, in 1959, the Soviet Union broke a contract with China and withdrew their experts, halting efforts to develop the technology. 

China did not abandon plans to build the bomb.

In 1959, Zhu, who was 35, became deputy director of Nuclear Weapons Research Institutions in the No. 2 Ministry of the Machine Building Industry, which proved to be a major help for him to develop the atom bomb and hydrogen bomb.

The deterioration of Sino-Soviet Union relations created difficulties because the Soviet Union destroyed the information related to atom bomb, according to Beijing-based Renwu Magazine.

Zhu proposed to do research using information in reports by Soviet experts, which lead to a huge breakthrough. 

In 1962, the ministry wanted to build the first bomb by 1964 or 1965. Zhu wrote two guiding documents for the plan, which the central government used to make decision about the atom bomb.China set off its first atomic bomb on October 16, 1964, and Zhu was excited.

Three years later, Zhu and his colleagues built the hydrogen bomb.

In September 1999, the State Council, the Military Commission of the CPC Central Committee gave Zhu and 22 other scientists medals for the "Two Bombs, One Satellite" project.

On December 25, 1996, the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, discovered a new asteroid, on Zhu's birthday.  Eight years later, on his 80th, China named the asteroid after Zhu.

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