Elizabeth Riddle Graves

Elizabeth “Diz” Riddle Graves (1916-1972) was an American physicist.

Graves was born on January 25, 1916 in Nashville, Tennessee. She received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago, where she also met her husband, physicist Alvin Graves. During her time at Chicago, Graves conducted neutron-scattering experiments and research.

In 1943, Elizabeth and Al Graves moved to Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. Her primary work was the selection of a neutron reflector which would surround the bomb’s core, and she was one of only a few physicists who could operate the necessary Cockcroft-Walton accelerator for experiments.

In addition to her research in physics, Graves was known as an avid poet and singer. Her colleagues described her as a hard worker and an independent thinker equipped with a healthy sense of humor. Graves was reportedly in labor while completing a series of important experiments in her laboratory and counted her contractions by using a stopwatch. While seven months pregnant, Graves even assisted with the testing of the first atomic device at the Trinity site from afar to avoid radiation exposure. Here is an excerpt from Ruth Howes and Caroline Herzenberg's book Their Day in the Sun recounting the event:

In Cabin 4 the Graves’ spread out their equipment on the creaky double bed and told the inquiring owner that they were on a cross-country trip and would stay only two nights... In Carrizoso, Al Graves anxiously watched his wife puttering with the Geiger counter that rested on the window sill facing Trinity forty miles westward. Diz Graves was seven months pregnant, and Al worried that the strain of the last hours might injure her health. He put a steady arm around her and drew her to him. Over the short-wave set they could hear Sam Allison conversing excitedly with the pilot of the B-29. The Graves’s made a last check of their instruments. Then together they waited....

Graves remained in Los Alamos after the war to continue her research of experimental nuclear physics.

Graves died on January 6, 1972 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Elizabeth Riddle Graves's Timeline

  • 1916 Jan 25th Born in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • 1940 Received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago.
  • 1943 to 1946 Worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.

Related Profiles