What is JASON? Author Robert Gomer


In the summer Jason met in Santa Barbara. I think I was the main instigator of a study on the use of nuclear weapons in Viet Nam; my fellow researchers were Freeman Dyson, Steve Weinberg, and Courtenay Wright. It was our purpose to show that using nuclear weapons would be immoral folly, and would set an awful precedent but we realized that these arguments would cut little ice with the powers that then were. We didn’t have to look far for military reasons against the use of nuclear weapons: The Vietcong were widely dispersed, our troops concentrated in encampments designed to minimize the perimeters which had to be defended so that we, rather than the VC were extremely vulnerable to attack by small nuclear weapons. There was a lot of classified stuff to drive home this point but the basic argument was that just given. Eventually the title but not the contents of this paper were declassified with at least one ironic result: During the student unrests of 1968 a student at Columbia who had planned to come to Chicago to work with me, announced publicly that he couldn’t work with someone who had participated in this study.



Robert Gomer was born in Austria and educated at Pomona College and the University of Rochester, where he received his doctorate in 1949. From 1949 to 1950 he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and worked with G. B. Kistiakowsky. He subsequently moved to the University of Chicago, where he was a professor of chemistry in the James Franck Institute and the Department of Chemistry. From 1977 to 1983 he served as director of the James Franck Institute and in 1984 he was appointed Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor. He has been honored with numerous awards including the A. von Humboldt Society Senior U.S. Science Award, the Davisson-Germer Prize of the American Physical Society, the Medard W. Welch Award of the American Vacuum Society, and the Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry. Prior to his retirement he worked on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Journal of Chemical Physics, Applied Physics, and Annual Reviews of Physical Chemistry. He served on numerous scientific committees, including the President’s Science Advisory Committee (1961-1965) and the Advisory Committee for the Directorate of Physical Sciences, Air Force Office of Scientific Research (1961-1975), and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Universities Space Research Association (1976-1978). He is the author of Field Emission and Field Ionization (American Vacuum Society Classics), a pioneering vacuum text based on four lectures presented at Harvard University in 1958.