In Memoriam: Lilli Schwenk Hornig, 1921-2017

Lilli Hornig, an educator who conducted research on the atomic bomb, died on November 17 in Providence, Rhode Island. She was 96 years old.

Dr. Hornig was born in what is now the Czech Republic. The family moved to Berlin where her father worker for a pharmaceutical company. The company fled to the United States to escape Nazi persecution of Jewish people.

After graduating from with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in chemistry from Harvard, she was offered a job as a secretary in the Manhattan Project that was developing the world’s first atomic bomb. She was assigned to work with plutonium but was taken off that part of the project because it was feared that working with the radioactive material might affect her fertility. Dr. Hornig them joined her husband’s group that was working on the explosives to detonate the radioactive core. Donald Hornig later became president of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

After World War II, Hornig earned a doctorate at Harvard University and joined the faculty at what is now Trinity Washington University in the nation’s capital. There she served as chair of the department of chemistry.

Dr. Hornig later founded Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) at Brown University. The organization is an advocacy group for advancing women in the academic world. She also served as the first director of the Committee on the Education and Employment of Women in Science and Engineering at the National Academy of Sciences.

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