Conducted on December 20, 1994 in San Francisco, California, by Loretta Hefner, archivist for the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and Karoline Gourley, a researcher for the Office of Human Radiation Experiments, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). John W. Gofman was selected for the oral history project because of his research at the University of California, Berkeley, and his biomedical work at the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory (LLRL). The oral history covers Dr. Gofman's codiscovery of uranium-233, his involvement with isolating the first milligram of plutonium, his work as founder and director of the biomedical program at Lawrence Livermore, and the evolution of his opinions on the effects of radiation on humans.
Dr. Gofman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 21, 1918. He received his B.A. in chemistry from Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio) in 1939. He received his Ph.D. in Nuclear/Physical Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. He received his M.D. from the School of Medicine, University of California at San Francisco in 1946. He married in 1940 and has one grown child.
Dr. Gofman began his career by working for the Plutonium Project as part of the Manhattan Project at the University of California, Berkeley from 1941 to 1943. During that time, he developed two processes for separating plutonium from the uranium and fission products of irradiated fuel. This work, conducted with Dr. Glenn Seaborg, was the precursor to full-scale plutonium production at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington. Between 1947 and 1951, Gofman was a physician in radioisotope therapy at the Donner Clinic, University of California, Berkeley. From 1947 to 1954 Gofman was an Assistant Professor of Medical Physics in the Division of Medical Physics, Department of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1954 this position turned into a full professorship, and in December 1973 it became a Professorship Emeritus, a position he continues to hold today. He was the medical director for the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (Livermore) from 1954 to 1957. From 1963 to 1969 he was an Associate Director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and from 1963 to 1966 he was Director/Founder of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory Division of Biology and Medicine.
Dr. Gofman has published many times on such topics as the following: