Roger Hildebrand is an American physicist and Manhattan Project veteran. He is the S.K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, at the University of Chicago and is affiliated with the Enrico Fermi Institute.
Hildebrand was born on May 1, 1922 in Berkeley, California to Joel and Emily Hildebrand. His father was a distinguished chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. Following in his father and older brothers’ footsteps, he was studying chemistry at Berkeley when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Five days later, Ernest Lawrence approached Hildebrand, who had just finished his final exams. He asked the undergraduate, “Do you want to help the war effort?” and proceeded to spend the next hour teaching him how to operate a cyclotron. Throughout the war, Hildebrand worked on the Crocker cyclotron and the mass spectrometer, separating uranium isotopes. He was responsible for making the first samples of neptunium and plutonium. Hildebrand was also sent to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to train workers on how to operate the mass spectrometers at the Y-12 plant.
After the war, Hildebrand continued his studies at Berkeley, completing his B.A. in chemistry in 1947 and receiving his Ph.D. in physics in 1951. Lawrence then sent him to Chicago to conduct an experiment on uranium fission at the cyclotron there. He then joined the Physics Department at the University of Chicago, where he remained for the rest of his academic career.
At the University of Chicago, Hildebrand knew and worked alongside renowned scientists Enrico Fermi, Leona Woods Marshall Libby, Harold Urey, and Willard Libby. He was a pioneer of hydrogen chamber technology in the 1950s. His other research interests have included galactic astronomy and astrophysics.
Hildebrand has also served as associate director for high-energy physics at Argonne National Laboratory, director of the Fermi Institute, dean of the college, and chairman of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago.