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Dr. Richard Garwin is a physicist from the United States credited with the initial design of the first hydrogen bomb. He learned under famous scientist, Enrico Fermi, and his research and discoveries spanned across many disciplines, earning him positions in all three U.S. Scientific Academies. Dr. Garwin also received many awards for his contributions to science and national security, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

Early Life and Education

Richard Lawrence Garwin was born on April 19, 1928, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dr. Richard L. Garwin was supposedly “the only true genius [renowned physicist, Enrico Fermi,] had ever met."

He grew up helping his father, who worked as both a high school teacher and movie theater projectionist, to repair broken projectors. Garwin also assisted his father in making audio amplifiers now that movies produced sound.[1]

Garwin enrolled at the Case Institute of Technology in his home city and received a Bachelors in Physics in 1947. He then studied at the University of Chicago and graduated with a doctorate in Physics in 1949.[2] Dr. Garwin learned under the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Enrico Fermi. According to one of Fermi’s other students, “Fermi said Garwin was the only true genius he had ever met.”[3]

Career Beginnings and the Hydrogen Bomb

Dr. Richard Garwin joined the Physics Department faculty at the University of Chicago after graduating. His mentor, Dr. Fermi, invited him to join the labs designing nuclear arms in Los Alamos, New Mexico, for the first time in summer 1950. Between 1951-1952, Dr. Garwin assisted in the creation of the first hydrogen bomb in the world, almost 1000x more destructive than any previous models.[4] He also designed the first ever spy satellites and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office named him as one of their important founders.[5]

The International Business Machines Corporation

In 1952, Dr. Richard L. Garwin accepted a position as a researcher for the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). He negotiated a favorable arrangement where he could continue to offer consultation in Washington, D.C. and Los Alamos along with being a physics professor at Columbia University.[6]

In 1953, Dr. Garwin began investigating solid and liquid Helium 3 by using magnetic resonance at the Watson Laboratory in New York City. He suggested the technique could be used to make a spin-echo that could be used as computer memory, but the impractical design ended that thought quickly. His work with magnetic resonance did result in advancements in medical imaging and technology.

Dr. Garwin made contributions across the board at IBM during his 40-year employment. He holds more than 44 U.S. patents for his work in detecting gravitational radiation, non-conservation of parity, low-temperature physics, communication systems, and computer technology.[7]

Consultation and Governmental Career

The President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) requested Dr. Richard Garwin as a scientific consult in 1958.[8] When U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1958 to impede the U.S.’s growing arms race against the Soviet Union, Dr. Garwin attended the negotiations in Geneva to provide scientific solutions to the many problems associated with strict regulation.[9]

Dr. Garwin joined the PSAC as a member from 1962-1965 and 1969-1972.[10] During Dr. Garwin’s second employment as a PSAC member he chaired a committee evaluating a proposed program to build a supersonic transport (SST) aircraft supported by U.S. President Richard Nixon. He testified before Congress against the project and it was canceled. From 1965-1966, he worked as the Thomas J. Watson Research Center’s Director of Applied Research, and maintains a personal office there still.[11]

Dr. Richard L. Garwin’s insatiable appetite for research and knowledge guided his impressive scientific career that continues to this day.

Dr. Richard L. Garwin also joined the Defense Science Board from 1966 to 1969 and served as an adjunct Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He taught as an adjunct professor of physics at Columbia University, New York City, as well as a public policy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School. From 1977-1985, he worked with the Council of the Institute for Strategic Studies in London along with being a member of the Pugwash Council.

In 1978, Dr. Garwin chaired the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs. The National Academy of Sciences invited him to serve on their Council in 1983 and he was a member from 1983-1986 and again from 2002-2005. The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations also named him a Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology between 1997 and 2004.

Other important membership positions held by Dr. Garwon include The American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering. He has also served as Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the IEEE, and the American Physical Society.[12]

Dr. Garwin’s contributions and research into antisubmarine warfare, military and civilian aircraft, sensor systems, the photographic reconnaissance satellite programs, high-speed laser printing and superconducting computing still influence technological development and counterintelligence efforts in the modern era.[13]

Later Career and Honors

Dr. Richard L. Garwin retired from IBM in 1993, but continues to be an active supporter of strategic nuclear arms reduction while still consulting the U.S. government on a variety of issues. He has served as a consultant in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for U.S. President Barack Obama since 2009. Steve Chu, the Secretary of Energy, requested his assistance in 2010 after the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill and again in 2011 after the damage to Fukushima’s nuclear reactors.[14]

President Obama awarded Dr. Garwin the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 22, 2016, for his extensive scientific contributions.[15] Other awards and honors include: the Wright Prize for InterDisciplinary Scientific Achievement (1983), the AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award (1988), the U.S. “Science for Peace” Prize (1991), the R.V. Jones Foreign Intelligence Award (1996), the Enrico Fermi Award (1996), the Public Service Award from the Federation of American Scientists (1971, 1997), the La Grande Medaille de l'Academie des Sciences from the French Academie des Sciences, and the U.S. National Medal of Science (2003).[16]



Broad, W. J. (1999, November 16). SCIENTIST AT WORK: RICHARD L. GARWIN; Physicist And Rebel Is Bruised, Not Beaten. The New York Times.[2]

IBM. (2003, October 27). Richard L. Garwin receives the National Medal of Science. IBM News Releases.[3] 
 FAS. (2016, December 07). The Garwin Archive. The Federation of American Scientists.[4]

Thomas, W. (2016, November 22). Physicist and Science Adviser Richard Garwin Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom. American Institute of Physics.[5]


  1. Broad, 1999
  2. FAS, 2016
  3. Broad, 1999
  4. Broad, 1999
  5. National Reconnaissance Office. (2000). Founders of National Reconnaissance.[1]
  6. Broad, 1999
  7. IBM, 2003
  8. IBM, 2003
  9. Broad, 1999
  10. IBM, 2003
  11. Thomas, 2016
  12. FAS, 2016
  13. IBM, 2003
  14. FAS, 2016
  15. Thomas, 2016
  16. FAS, 2016

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