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Robert Furman, atom bomb spy leader, dead at 93


Robert Furman, a civil engineer who helped round up German scientists suspected of working on an atomic bomb for the Nazis during World War II, has died. He was 93.

Furman died Oct. 14 of metastatic melanoma, The New York Times writes in his obituary today.

As chief of foreign intelligence for the U.S. bomb project in the last two years of the war, Furman coordinated the kidnapping of German scientists, including physicist Werner Heisenberg. Eventually, Heisenberg and nine other scientists were spirited out of Soviet reach and into a detention center in France called the Dustbin, according to the Times.

Under German sniper fire, Furman and his team also seized 31 tons of uranium ore in Belgium that was  eventually shipped to the U.S.

Furman worked closely with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez  to track down German nuclear activity. They searched for “heavy water”–water containing a heavy isotope of hydrogen used in the making of bombs–in the upper Rhine and Lake Constance between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, Los Alamos lab historian emeritus Roger Meade told the Times.

Furman’s spy team, code-named Alsos, ultimately found that Germany’s bomb project wasn’t as advanced as the U.S. had believed. “Instead of being two years ahead, they were two years behind,” historian Robert S. Norris wrote in Racing for the Bomb, according to the Times.

(Image by iStockphoto/Scott Leman)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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