John R. Dam, had role in developing the atomic bomb during World War II

August 21, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

John R. Dam, a chemist who helped produce the plutonium used in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, died Monday of heart failure at the Vantage House retirement facility in Columbia. He was 78.

Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Mich., Mr. Dam graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1943 with a bachelor's degree. While pursuing a master's degree in chemistry at the University of Chicago, he became involved with a group of scientists working under the bleachers at Stagg Field to isolate plutonium that was used in experiments that produced the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

The group's work was recognized by physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Mr. Dam became a civilian scientist with the top secret Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., that was developing the atomic bomb.

Mr. Dam was also one of the scientists who signed the Oak Ridge Petition, written by scientist Leo Szilard in July 1945. The petition urged moral responsibility in using the new nuclear technology and called for a demonstration before using it as a weapon so that Japan would have a chance to consider the consequences of further refusal to surrender.

"He was a lover of nature and the environment," said his daughter Judith Lee O'Loughlin of Staten Island, N.Y. "It was important to him that the environment remained a safe place and he was concerned about the whole nuclear movement."

In 1960, he and his wife of 47 years, the former Maxine Colip, moved to Severna Park.

As a chemist in the paper industry, Mr. Dam was named head of the research laboratory at Glidden Paints in Hawkins Point in 1960. Recognized as an innovator in the commercial paint industry, he developed the titanium-dioxide bleaching process for paper.

He also served a term as president of the Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry. He retired in the early 1980s.

"He loved family vacations," Mrs. O'Loughlin said. "He always showed his immense love for his family. He was about love through actions."

Active in the Boy Scouts, Mr. Dam was a Cub Scout pack leader and an assistant scoutmaster. He was an avid gardener and photographer.

Mr. Dam lost his sight soon after retiring and was unable to realize his dreams of painting and woodworking, though he did craft a 3-foot ceramic Christmas tree that the family treasures.

After Mr. Dam's wife died in 1990, he moved to Vantage House.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Vantage House.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, John Robert Dam Jr. of Detroit; a daughter, Sharon Kaye Davidson of Dickerson; three brothers, Cecil Dam of Ocala, Fla., Harry Dam of Kalamazoo and Richard Dam of Lincoln, Neb.; and five grandchildren.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore 21287.

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