Harvard physicist F. Gilman Blake dies at age 74

October 20, 1991

A memorial service for F. Gilman Blake, a quiet-spoken Harvard University physicist who helped develop the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, and later worked to strengthen nuclear test bans, will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, Mount Royal and West Lafayette avenues.

Dr. Blake, 74, died Oct. 4 at his Bolton Hill home from the effects of a stroke suffered six months ago.

A Catholic convert, he was long a devoted and active member of Corpus Christi Church, where he took charge of maintaining the antique clock and bells in its landmark steeple, was a member of the first Parish Council in the 1970s and oversaw finances as treasurer of the Jenkins Memorial Trust, responsible for the church's restoration.

Gil Blake, as he was known to many friends and associates, was born in New York City and grew up in New Haven, Conn., where his father, Francis G. Blake, was dean of medicine at Yale University.

The son held four degrees from Harvard, where his education was interrupted by World War II, and where he taught and did research in the early and late 1940s.

After receiving his bachelor's degree in physics summa cum laude in 1938, Gil Blake studied in Europe on a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship.

He saw British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain return from Munich, Germany, was issued a gas mask in London and heard Hitler's speeches in Berlin.

He received his doctorate from Harvard in 1949.

His first research for the U.S. military had been on thermistors, forerunners of transistors, intended for the detection of infrared radiant heat at long distances.

By the summer of 1944 he was in a group of civilian scientists assessing the blast of the first atomic bomb.

One of the problems he helped solve was how to set off detonators for the bomb.

Because of the pregnancy of his wife, the former Marion Spencer, whom he had married in 1939, he was not aboard the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945.

If that attack had not ended the war, he was due to be part of another mixed military and civilian crew scheduled to drop a third plutonium bomb on Japan.

In an interview in 1982 with Peter Kumpa of The Evening Sun, Dr. Blake recalled that the use of nuclear weapons troubled his fellow scientists at Los Alamos as much as it did him, but he personally knew U.S. prisoners in Japan whose lives were saved by the shortening of the war.

He also noted that one fire-bomb raid on Tokyo in the spring of 1945 killed more people -- about 80,000 -- than the atomic bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki together.

After the war, he was a Research Fellow and lecturer at Harvard. In 1950, he joined Standard Oil of California (Chevron) for two decades of corporate scientific work, including seismology and underwater sound research.

By 1959, he was on an emergency government panel studying the detection of underground nuclear tests.

He was Chevron's senior research scientist from 1966 to 1971, when he returned to government service full time.

From 1971 to 1973, he was technical assistant to the director of science and technology in the Office of the President.

He followed this service with three years as a senior policy analyst for the National Science Foundation.

He then joined the U.S. Department of Energy, where at first he was involved in geothermal energy research.

He retired from the Department of Energy in 1987 as a scientific adviser on international security affairs.

Among his government assignments on behalf of nuclear test bans was the perfecting of techniques to distinguish underground tests from natural earth tremors.

"I favor, as any reasonable man does, eliminating the use of nuclear weapons," he said at that time, but he added that he did not favor their elimination "blindly or unilaterally."

Dr. Blake's first wife died in 1969. In 1973, he married Diana

Diederich of Baltimore, who survives him.

Other survivors include a daughter, Emily Ogle of Manhattan, Kan.; a son, Frank G. Blake of Fullerton, Calif.; two brothers, William D. Blake of Bunganuc Landing, Maine, and John Blake of Myersville; and four grandchildren.

The family suggested that memorial contributions be made to

the Restoration Fund of Corpus Christi Church.

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