Karl Z. Morgan

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Karl Ziegler Morgan (September 27, 1907 – June 8, 1999), was an American physicist who was one of the founders of the field of radiation health physics. Late in life, after a long career in the Manhattan Project and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he became a critic of nuclear power and nuclear weapons production.

Born in Enochville, North Carolina, Karl Morgan attended Lenoir-Rhyne College (now University) as a freshman and sophomore and then transferred to the University of North Carolina, where he graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in physics and mathematics. He continued graduate study in physics at Duke University, where he received a PhD degree in 1934 for research into cosmic radiation. He began an academic career as a faculty member at Lenoir Rhyne College, but in 1943 was recruited to work in the secret project to develop an atomic bomb.[1][2][3]

Initially at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory and later in Oak Ridge, Morgan joined a small group of physicists who were interested in the health effects of radiation.[4]

Morgan became director of health physics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), serving from the late 1940s until his retirement in 1972. In 1955 he became the first president of the Health Physics Society, and was editor of the journal Health Physics from 1955 to 1977.[5] After his retirement from ORNL, he joined the faculty of Georgia Institute of Technology as professor of nuclear energy in the school of nuclear engineering, retiring from that position in 1982, when he became a consulting professor at Appalachian State University.[3]

After decades as a "pillar of the nuclear establishment", Morgan had a "change of heart" about nuclear weapons production and nuclear power. He began to offer court testimony which was friendly to people who said they had been harmed by nuclear weapons and the nuclear power industry. In October 1982, he testified in a lawsuit brought by nearly 1,200 people who accused the government of negligence in atomic weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s, which they said had caused leukemia and other cancers. Morgan, then 75 years old, testified that radiation protection measures in the tests were substandard.[6]

Morgan also testified on behalf of Navajo uranium miners and their survivors, saying government officials had known about mine radiation dangers but had not protected the miners. He also testified in the case of Karen Silkwood against Kerr-McGee.[6]

Morgan's autobiography, The Angry Genie: One Man's Walk Through the Nuclear Age was published in 1999 by the University of Oklahoma Press.[6] He died in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on June 8, 1999, apparently from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.[3][7]

PhD John Cameron, the developer of a more accurate dosimeter in the 1960s, was however a major critic of Morgan's error prone autobiography that was otherwise interesting for its historical detailing of the Manhattan Project's health physics evolution. Cameron goes chapter by chapter of Morgan's generally "flawed" anti-nuclear stance, writing a critique in the year 2000 on Morgan's exaggeration of the small risks from exposure.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pearce Wright, Karl Morgan, The Guardian, Tuesday 15 June 1999
  2. ^ Leland R. Johnson, Karl Z. Morgan[permanent dead link], Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
  3. ^ a b c "Dr. Karl Z. Morgan; Pioneer health physicist," The Oak Ridger, June 10, 1999
  4. ^ Dick Smyser, "Founder of the science of health physics and also a pioneer of the environmental movement," The Oak Ridger, June 24, 1999
  5. ^ Angry Genie: One Man's Walk Through the Nuclear Age[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ a b c Karl Z. Morgan, 91, Founder of the Field Of Health Physics, Dies in Tennessee
  7. ^ K.Z. Morgan, health physics pioneer, dies, ORNL Reporter, July 1999
  8. ^ A Flawed History of Radiation Protection by John Cameron, Ph.D

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