Selig Hecht (1892 – 1947) was an American physiologist who studied photochemistry in photoreceptor cells. Hecht was born in Austria, and immigrated to the USA at an early age. His studies and talents led to Columbia University making him professor of biophysics in 1928.
Hecht began his study into light sensitivity with clams (Mya arenaria) and insects. His specialty was photochemistry, the kinetics of the reactions initiated by light in the receptors. He made contributions to the knowledge of dark adaptation, visual acuity, brightness discrimination, color vision, and the mechanism of the visual threshold.
According to biographer Pirenne, Hecht was a "brilliant lecturer and expositor." Pirenne continues,
- The lack of synthesis discernible in present-day knowledge and teaching perturbed him, and he took an active interest in all the human implications of science. He dealt with persons and ideas on the basis of their intrinsic worth,...
Explaining the atom
When World War II ended with the use of atomic weapons which had been developed in secret by the Manhattan Project, Hecht was concerned that the American public was uninformed about the development of this new source of energy. He wrote a book Explaining the Atom (1947), to educate the public. He wrote,
- So long as one supposes this business is mysterious and secret, one cannot have a just evaluation of our possessions and security. Only by understanding the basis and development of atomic energy can one judge the legislation and foreign policy that concern it.
In a review in the New York Times (4/27/1947), Stephen Wheeler wrote that it was "by all odds the best book on atomic energy so far to be published for the ordinary reader." Similarly, James J. Jelinek wrote that it was an "invaluable contribution to the layman." He credits Hecht with "conveying to the layman the intellectual drama" of the development. Jelinek asserts that the book is "profoundly provocative in its political and sociological implications."
After Hecht died, a second edition was issued in 1959 by Eugene Rabinowitch.