Lloyd Albert Quarterman was born in Philadelphia on May 31, 1918. As a young boy he soon discovered his passion for science and spent many hours working with chemistry sets. When he was older during the 1930s, Quarterman went to college at St. Augustines in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was here that Quarterman not only developed a reputation for science, but also for his abilities on the football field. He earned his bachelors degree in 1943.
Immediately following graduation Quarterman was hired by the United States War Department. He was one of only six African Americans to be involved with research for the atomic bomb. His official title was an assistant to an associate research scientist and chemist. It is not known what his exact duties were because those who worked on the Manhattan Project were sworn to secrecy. Many different teams were involved with the building and completion of the atomic bomb. Quarterman worked on the teams at Columbia University in New York City and at the University of Chicago in Illinois.
It was on this team at the University of Chicago that the atom was first split, creating nuclear fission. Quarterman occasionally worked along side Albert Einstein to help create uranium isotopes. These were necessary for uranium gas, which made fission possible. This project was very secretive and also became known as the plutonium project. It was under this project that the first nuclear reactor, pile, was built. This is the most essential part of modern nuclear power plants. In 1945 when W.W.II ended, Quarterman was recognized with a certificate from the US War Department for helping to bring the war to an end.
This Chicago team became known as Argonne National Laboratories. This lab, funded by the University of Chicago, but no longer secretly, searched for peaceful uses for nuclear energy. Quarterman remained involved with this team for the next 30 years. During this time he also studied quantum mechanics. This helped to strengthen his ability as a scientist. In 1952, because of his dedication and hard work, he earned a Masters of Science from Northwestern University.
Quarterman was also known for his work as a nuclear and fluoride chemist. He created new chemical compounds and molecules from fluoride. Quarterman was able to take elements such as zeon, argon, and krypton and make them react with fluorine. These were new compounds. These elements were no known to react with anything before this. Quarterman was known as on of the greatest fluoride chemists on earth. But he was also a spectroscopist. A spectroscopist studies how matter and radiation interact. Quarterman created the window of diamonds that made it possible to observe highly corrosive materials, like hydrogen fluoride.
Because of his credentials and accomplishments, Quarterman was awarded with an honorary doctorate of science in chemistry from St. Augustines in 1971. He also began his research on synthetic blood but could not finish the project due to social and political objectives. He believed it could have saved many lives had he been able to finish it. Quarterman took pride in his community and heritage. He spoke to young African Americans, encouraging them to enter the field of science. He was also an active member of the NAACP. Quarterman described his work as specialized. He is quoted as saying, we are in an age of discovery. We live in the world of the unknown. Thats the only place to live. It is not surprising that when he died he donated his body to science.
Contemporary Black Biography vol. 4. Gale Research Inc.
Groueff, Stephane, The Manhattan Project: The Untold Story of the Making of the Atomic Bomb. Little, Brown and Co., 1967.