Constable: From atomic bomb to solar power, Downers Grove scientist always innovates

Dieter Gruen fled Nazi Germany, worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, helped design nuclear submarines, earned patents through a celebrated and innovative career at the Argonne Laboratory, and worked at another age 98. more efficient form of solar energy.

This is why US Rep.Sean Casten nominated his fellow Downers Grove resident for the presidency medal of freedom.

“Dr. Gruen is a renowned scientist and keen advocate for climate action, whose contributions over eight decades have transformed American technological development, from nuclear fission and fusion to solar and energy storage. We as a nation are forever in debt. , “says Casten, a Democrat who drafted a letter to President Joe Biden with his deputy, Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat; Arkansan Republican French Hill; Cheri Bustos, a Democrat from East Moline; and California Democrat Jerry McNerney.

Green came to the United States from Germany in 1937 when he was 14 years old.

“I left for the reason that I could no longer go to school. It was very difficult because of my religion,” Gruen says, explaining how his Judaism made him a target in his hometown of Meiningen in 1930s Germany. “I could go, but they beat me after school, the Hitler Youth or the Hitler Youth.”

His father, Joseph, a school principal, and his mother, Meta, arranged for him to live with families in the United States.

“At that time, it was possible to leave Germany if you had a visa,” says Gruen. He is in New York on the White Star Line HMS Georgic with his brother Herbert, who was eight years older and went to school in England. He lived with an uncle and aunt in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was part of a large Jewish community. He learned to speak English fluently without an accent and excelled in school.

He graduated from Little Rock Central High School, which later became the civil rights office of Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision was made that integrated schools.

“I did chemistry in Little Rock High School and there I was really interested,” Gruen says.

In 1939 his parents were sent to a Nazi concentration camp in Buchenwald, where they were given 24 hours to leave the country and managed to make it to families in Luxembourg “about six months before the war started”, says Gruen. He reunited with them after they arrived in Chicago. Green would take the “L” from her apartment in the Uptown neighborhood of Evanston to attend classes at Northwestern University.

“I used to eat lunch on the shore,” Gruen recalls. “There were rocks there, and I was going to eat the sandwich my mom had prepared for me and dangle my feet in the water.”

Gruen excelled in his majority of chemistry and chose to serve his nation. “I was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project, so I went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and worked there until April 1946,” he says. Uranium consists largely of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238, and Green has created a new material that allows scientists to extract the U-235 to make the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

“After the bomb went off, quite a few of the people came together and recognized this should not happen again,” said Gruen, who helped establish the shape of the Oak Ridge Scientists and Engineers Group “to prevent it. another nuclear device is used again. ” Their work led to the Nuclear Energy Act of 1946, which regulated how the new nuclear energy is used.

After the war, Gruen received his doctorate in chemical physics from the University of Chicago, where he worked on the magnetic properties of the newly synthesized element Neptunium and helped determine its place in the periodic table.

He was hired by the Argonne National Laboratory in 1947 and developed a method to “protect uranium fuel from corrosion” in nuclear submarines.

Working in a laboratory at Foote Mineral Co., Gruen obtained a patent in 1949 for his method of distillation to separate the elements of zirconium and hafnium used in control rods of atomic submarines. . Gruen experimented with elements essential for nuclear reactors and later cardiac pacemakers, and his work with transuranic elements led to Category 5F in the Periodic Table.

“He was able to move from one field to another,” said Larry A. Curtiss, an Argonne honorary fellow and senior group leader who has researched and collaborated with Gruen throughout her career. The inventions of green have made nuclear power safer, improved medical devices, and advanced alternative energy solutions. Green never slowed down.

“He discovered (using a nanocrystalline diamond film in biomedical applications) at 70, when most people retired,” says Curtiss.

In Argonne, Gruen served as Senior Scientist and Group Leader, as well as Associate Director of the Materials Science Division. He was named an Argonne honorary colleague, Emeritus, in 2012.

He is currently working on designing more efficient solar panels with graphene, a structurally different form of carbon.

“I have a prototype. What I need are investors,” said Gruen, who went to Boston last week to discuss his research. He did much of that research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Sunlight is pure energy,” says Gruen. “We get enough energy in sunlight in one hour to meet the energy needs of all 7 billion people for one year.”

Reps Casten and Foster share a scientific background with Green and have become friends.

“I spent a few afternoons in his garden,” Casten says of Gruen. They talk about solar energy, climate change and new forms of energy.

Gruen met his wife, Dolores, while they were students at the University of Chicago. “We had a very happy and fulfilling marriage,” says Gruen, who was married for 66 years when his wife died in 2015. She was a pioneering school psychologist and psychotherapist. They had two daughters – Erica, an Emmy-winning producer who became president / CEO of The Food Network, and Karen, who is a psychologist and counselor – and a son, Jeffery, a doctor who founded an innovative healthcare company.

“I feel very, very honored,” Gruen said of his nomination for the presidency medal of freedom. Casten nominated him last year and took Green as a guest in the state of the Union in February 2020, when a medal presentation was made to Rush Limbaugh.

“I was just a few feet away when he received the medal,” says the green of the ceremony as First Lady Melania Trump hangs the Presidential Medal of Freedom around the neck of the radio personality. “I really don’t expect to get it this time, but it’s nice to be nominated.”

Casten says Gruen’s achievements deserve the award, but his history as an immigrant who has endured is equally inspiring.

“He’s just so full of hope,” Casten says, noting that Green never gave up hope when he was beaten by Hitler Youth, when his parents were in a concentration camp, or when the nuclear war and now our climate change Planet threatened. “He has not lost faith. It is the American mind at its best.”