Hans Kronberger (physicist)

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Hans Kronberger
Born (1920-07-28)28 July 1920
Linz, Austria
Died 29 September 1970(1970-09-29) (aged 50)
Wilmslow, Cheshire
Citizenship British
Known for Isotope separation
Awards Fellow of the Royal Society (1965)[1]
CBE (1966)
Leverhulme Medal (1969)
Scientific career
Fields Nuclear engineering
Institutions UK Atomic Energy Authority

Hans Kronberger CBE, FRS[1] (28 July 1920 – 29 September 1970) was a British physicist. During his career with the UK Atomic Energy Authority he made important contributions to the development of the British thermonuclear bomb and nuclear power engineering, especially in the field of isotope separation.

Early life[edit]

Hans Kronberger was born of Jewish parents in Linz, Austria, where his father was a leather merchant.[1] Kronberger attended the Akademische Gymnasium in Linz, matriculating in Mathematics, Latin, Greek and German; he was a brilliant scholar.[2] After the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, Kronberger fled to Britain, arriving at Victoria Station with £10 and his school reports. He set about gaining entry to a university and was accepted at King's College, Newcastle, then a college of Durham University to read mechanical engineering.[3] Following the fall of France, in May 1940 Kronberger was classified as a "friendly enemy alien" and interned on the Isle of Man.[4] In July 1940, Kronberger, along with some 2500 refugees, was deported to Australia on board HMT Dunera; during the voyage he and others were subjected to ill treatment.[5] In Australia, he was interned first at a camp in Hay, New South Wales, then from May 1941 at Tatura in Victoria.[6] He was released and returned to Britain in 1942. He was tutored by refugee scientists at the camps[7] and it was mainly due to this experience that he changed his course to physics on resuming his studies at Newcastle. He graduated in 1944 with the Stroud Prize in Physics.[1]


In 1944 he moved to Birmingham University, joining Francis Simon's team in the Tube Alloys Project, the British programme to develop an atomic bomb.[8] His PhD on isotope separation was completed in 1948.[9] He then moved to the newly formed Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, where he continued to work on the separation of the isotopes of uranium, initially by gaseous diffusion and then using high speed centrifuges. In 1951 he moved to Capenhurst, where a large scale diffusion plant was being constructed. In two years, he was promoted to head of the Capenhurst laboratories, and then in 1958 he succeeded Leonard Rotherham as director of research and development of the industrial group of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.[1]

In 1952, Britain committed itself to the development of a thermonuclear weapon.[10] Kronberger's work on the separation of lithium isotopes was essential to the construction of the first warheads, which were tested at Christmas Island in 1957.[11] A series of promotions within the UKAEA followed; he became Scientist in Chief of the Reactor Group in 1962 and the Member for Reactor Development of the UKAEA in 1969. Some of his work remains classified to this day, but there are many tributes to his inspiring leadership.[1] He became involved with the promotion of peaceful uses of atomic energy and was a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency.[12] He contributed to feasibility studies on desalination of sea water and lectured on hydrostatic extrusion.[13] [14]

Personal life[edit]

The Jewish population of Linz was expelled in July 1938.[15] Kronberger's mother was killed at Schloss Hartheim and his sister was gassed at Auschwitz.[16] His father survived imprisonment in the concentration camp at Theresienstadt.[17] Kronberger became a naturalised British citizen in 1946.[18] In 1951 he married Joan Hanson, a scientific assistant at Harwell, a widow with a young son, Paul; together they had two daughters, Zoë and Sarah. Joan was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1952 and died in 1962. Kronberger was a talented pianist, and also a skilled mountaineer and skier.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Rotherham, L. (1972). "Hans Kronberger 1920-1970". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 18: 412–426. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1972.0013. 
  2. ^ "Bibliografie zur oberösterreichischen Geschichte". Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Dr Hans Kronberger. Distinguished nuclear physicist", The Times, p. 14, 1 October 1970 
  4. ^ Gillman, Peter (1980). Collar the Lot! How Britain Interned and Expelled its Wartime Refugees. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 978-0704334083. 
  5. ^ Bartrop, Paul R.; Eisen, G. (1990). The Dunera Affair: A Documentary Resource Book. Melbourne: Schwartz & Wilkinson. p. 155. ISBN 1863370250. 
  6. ^ Patkin, B. (1979). The Dunera Internees. Australia: Cassell. p. 107. ISBN 072696803X. 
  7. ^ Pearl, C. (1983). The Dunera Scandal: Deported by Mistake. London and Sydney: Angus & Robertson. p. 81. ISBN 0207147078. 
  8. ^ Penney, William, "Kronberger, Hans", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/34364  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Kronberger, H. (1948). "Partial separation of uranium isotopes by thermal diffusion of liquid uranium hexafluoride". University of Birmingham: PhD Thesis. 
  10. ^ Arnold, Lorna (2001). Britain and the H-Bomb. Basingstoke: Palgrave. ISBN 0333947428. 
  11. ^ McIntyre, Donald (2009). "Project Crystal: Lithium 6 for Thermonuclear Weapons". UK Nuclear History. Southampton: Mountbatten Centre for International Studies (Working Paper 5). Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  12. ^ "Part Two, Chapter 1, The International Atomic Energy Agency" (PDF). Yearbook of the United Nations 1969. New York. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  13. ^ "Making the Sea Safe to Drink". The Guardian. 7 September 1966. p. 5. 
  14. ^ Kronberger, Hans (1969). "Hydrostatic extrusion". Proceedings of the Royal Society A. 311: 331–347. Bibcode:1969RSPSA.311..331K. doi:10.1098/rspa.1969.0121. JSTOR 2416236. 
  15. ^ "Expulsion of the Jews". Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Olga Kellner Kronberger". Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  17. ^ Schneider, G. (1995). Exile and Destruction: The Fate of Austrian Jews, 1938–1945. Westport: Praeger. p. 186. ISBN 0275951391. 
  18. ^ "Certificate AZ18115, 14 May 1946". Retrieved 29 July 2013.