Edward Condon — Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Edward U. Condon, circa 1945-1951

Edward Condon — Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Ammonia maser atomic clock NIST

Edward Condon was a nuclear physicist who pioneered quantum physics.

Key Points:
  • Edward Condon was an American Nuclear Physicist who conducted a study of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) funded by the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1960s to investigate claims.
  • Condon significantly contributed to the Manhattan Project project which focused on the research and development of nuclear weapons.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) gives an annual award called The Condon Award that recognizes NIST’s distinguished achievements in written exposition in science and technology.

The history of quantum mechanics and the famous Manhattan Project cannot be mentioned without Edward Condon. The roles he played, the inventions he made, and his commitment to science and physics have greatly inspired modern-day inventions.

Who is Edward Condon?

Edward Condon or Edward Uhler Condon was an American Nuclear Physicist whom the Franck-Condon principle and the Slater- Condon rules were co-named after. He also pioneered quantum mechanics to understand the atom and its components. During World War II, Condon, alongside other researchers and nuclear physicists, developed radar and nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project. It is this project that produced the first atomic weapons.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Edward Uhler Condon
March 2, 1902
March 26, 1974
Net Worth
$1 Million – $5 Million
  • Frederic Ives Medal
Joseph Henry Condon
Place of Birth
Alamogordo, New Mexico
Fields of Expertise
University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University, Columbia University
The Manhattan Project, UFO research

Between 1945 and 1951, Condon was the director of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) and the president of both the American Physical Society (1946) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1953). In an effort to put atomic energy under civilian control, Condon was attacked by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Condon also conducted a study of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) funded by the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1960s to investigate claims of unidentified flying objects. His publication of the Condon report in 1968 made him popular, and his findings that Unidentified Flying Objects have prosaic explanations were extremely useful to the Air Force.

Early Life

Edward Condon was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on March 2, 1902.  His father, William Edward Condon, was a supervisor at constructing a narrow-gauge railroad built by the area logging companies.

He graduated from high school in Oakland, California, in 1918 and worked as a journalist for different papers for three years. He then joined the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied theoretical physics. His inspiration to take the course came after learning that his high school teacher had joined the faculty. In three years, Condon graduated with a bachelor’s degree and pursued a directorate which he earned in two years.

In his Ph.D. thesis, Condon created the Franck-Condon principle using quantum physics. His work combined the suggestions of James Franck and Raymond Thayer Birger’s work on measuring and analyzing band spectral intensities.


Early Career

After completing his studies, Condon taught briefly at Columbia University and was an associate professor of physics at Princeton University from 1928 to 1937.

At the beginning of 1937, he was appointed to be the associate director of research at the Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh. He established research programs in various disciplines of physics. He later headed the company’s research on microwave radar development and worked on isolating uranium in atomic bombs.

During World War II, he served as a consultant to the National Defense Research Committee and made valuable contributions in organizing the MITs radiation laboratory.

During the 1940 New York World Fair, Condon showcased his machine, Nimatron, and patented it on September 14, 1940.

Government Service

In 1943, Condon was absorbed in the Manhattan project, which focused on researching and developing nuclear weapons for World War II. However, he didn’t last long. After six months, he resigned, citing security conflicts with the project’s military leader General Leslie R. Groves. Part of his resignation letter stated:

The thing which upsets me the most is the extraordinary close security policy…I do not feel qualified to question the wisdom of this since I am unaware of the extent of enemy espionage and sabotage activities. I only want to say that in my case, I found that the extreme concern with security was morbidly depressing–especially the discussion about censoring mail and telephone calls. — Edward Condon

Between August 1943 and February 1945, Condon served as a part-time consultant on the separation of U-235 and U-238. In 1944, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, where he played a critical role in organizing scientists during the war to lobby for civilian control of atomic energy.

What is Edward Condon Known For?

Radar and Nuclear Weapons Research

As an established physicist, Condon made a significant contribution to creating atomic energy and nuclear weapon research. His position as an associate professor of physics at Princeton University gave him an opportunity to establish himself as one of the brilliant minds in the field.

His reputation attracted the attention of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who recruited him in the Manhattan project. This project focused on the research and development of nuclear weapons. Although he fell out with the project’s military leader and resigned after six weeks, his contribution cannot be underestimated.

After the war, he served as a consultant to the Senate, consulting them on the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission. Condon was an ardent advocate of internationalism and sharing nuclear secrets with the Soviet Union. He saw this as the best means for preventing nuclear war. His position would subject him to charges of treason and espionage in the coming years. Condon was the subject of an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) from 1947-1949. His loyalty to the United States would come under attack from various government figures throughout the early 1950s, subsiding with the conclusion of the Red Scare.

The Nimatron

The Nimatron is one of the important inventions by Condon. In April 1940, in the Westinghouse Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York (together with Westinghouse’s robots Elektro and Sparko) was shown an electromechanical computer, playing the Nim game. In September 1940, the machine was patented to Condon and two Westinghouse engineers from the relay division in Pittsburgh, Gerald Tawney and Willard Derr, who created the device (U.S. patent Nr. 2215544).

The gadget was a special-purpose digital computer, designed in the winter of 1939 by Condon for the sole purpose of entertaining, and its logic was built of electromechanical relays, while the output allows the ignition of four lines of seven light bulbs. The idea of making a machine for playing Nim came to Condon when he realized that the same calibration circuits used in Geiger counters (although built with ordinary electromagnetic relays, not by valves) could represent the numbers defining the state of a game.

The invention relates to control apparatus and has particular relation to electrical apparatus for automatically making the moves of one party in a game between two opponents. It provided a device for playing Nim and displaying the arrays and moves while playing the game.


The Nimatron

Edward Condon: Marriage, Children, and Personal Life

Net Worth

Edward Condon net worth is estimated to be between $1 Million – $5 Million


Condon married Emilie Honzik (1899-1974).


With his wife Emilie, Condon had two daughters and a son—Joseph Henry Condon, who was also a physicist and an engineer.


Condon died on March 26, 1974, in Boulder Colorado Community Hospital.

Edward Condon: Awards and Achievements

Frederic Ives Medal

In 1968, Condon was awarded the Fredric Ives Medal by the Optical Society for outstanding work in optics.

Legacy Award

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) gives an annual award named for Condon. The Condon Award recognizes NIST’s distinguished achievements in written exposition in science and technology.

Edward Condon: Quotes

Edward Condon has several quotes attributed to him.

“In short, the greatest contribution to real security that science can make is through the extension of the scientific method to the social sciences and a solution of the problem of complete avoidance of war.”

“If physics is too difficult for the physicists, the nonphysicist may wonder whether he should try at all to grasp its complexities and ambiguities. It is undeniably an effort, but probably one worth making, for the basic questions are important, and the new experimental results are often fascinating. And if the layman runs into serious perplexities, he can be consoled with the thought that the points which baffle him are more than likely the ones for which the professionals have not found satisfactory answers.”

“The whole apparatus of using loyalty-security hearings for working off personal political spite has been firmly established as a part of our “way of life,” and I do not see anything happening yet to loosen the hold of this machinery on us.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Edward Condon?

Condon was a distinguished American physicist, a pioneer in quantum mechanics, and a participant in developing radar and nuclear weapons during World War II.

Where was Edward Condon born?

Condon was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

When was Edward Condon born?

Edward Condon was born on March 2, 1902.

What did Edward Condon do?

Edward Condon participated in the development of nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project and served as a consultant to the Senate on atomic energy. He also developed the Nimatron– a special purpose digital computer designed for the sole purpose of entertaining, and its logic was built of electromechanical relays, while the output allows the ignition of four lines of seven light bulbs.

What awards did Edward Condon win?

The Optical Society awarded Edward Condon the Frederic Ives Medal in 1968.

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