Lawrence M. Langer: IU Physicist and Manhattan Project Scientist

While Lawrence M. Langer made an impact at Indiana University’s physics department, his contributions to society go beyond his work as a physics professor at IU. Dr. Langer’s role with the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb that hit the town of Hiroshima during World War II, played a pivotal point for the Allied powers.

Langer with three other physic professors in 1940 (from left to right, Langer is the third person) helped create the first cyclotron at Indiana University. P0032291

Lawrence M. Langer was born in New York in 1913. He received his B.S.(1934) and PhD (1938), both from NYU in physics. In 1938, Langer joined the Indiana University faculty in the physics department where he helped create IU’s first cyclotron. As WWII progressed, Langer was excused from his duties at IU to join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology radar project in 1941, then moving on to to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 1943 to participate in the atomic bomb project. He served as the group leader and was the first of IU’s faculty to be recruited for the project.

1945 may have marked one of the most important years of Langer’s life. Langer supervised the trial drops of dummy bombs by Enola Grey (the plane used to drop the atomic bomb at Hiroshima) at Saipan. He also trained an Army officer for the mission, because the military would not permit a civilian to carry out the mission.

On the night before the Enola Grey mission, Langer wanted to make sure that everything stayed in place. He had feared that the military police and possibly others would become curious and cause problems for the bomb. For this reason, he stayed on the plane, and guarded the bomb on the evening before the mission was to take place. Eventually as Langer became tired, he slept on top of the bomb. In the morning everything was properly intact.

Following the Hiroshima misson, Langer returned to Bloomington and served as faculty member in the physics department until 1979. During his time there, he published many works and inspired his students in the field of science. Langer resided in Bloomington until his death in 2000.

Langer was a beloved faculty member at Indiana University, but many outside of the school community, remember him for his contributions to the Allies during WWII.

If you would like to learn more about Langer, contact the IU Archives to make an appointment to view the Lawrence Langer papers. There is a plethora of materials including WWII military documents, newspaper clippings, and Langer’s academic work.

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