Seagondollar's impact felt in science, politics

You may not know the name of Lewis Seagondollar, but the Emporia State Distinguished Alum played a pivotal role in seeing the Manhattan Project to its fruition at the tail end of World War II.

Born in Hoisington and raised in Emporia, Seagondollar passed away two weeks ago, just a few days shy of his 93th birthday.

Dewayne Backhus, Emporia State's Physical Sciences chair emeritus, says Seagondollar's contributions to science were immense. He adds that Seagondollar embodies the success Emporia State has had in producing quality scientists after graduation.

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One of the youngest scientists on the Manhattan Project team, Seagondollar witnessed the testing of the first atomic bomb near Los Alamos, N.M. His team was responsible for verifying the critical mass of plutonium 239, an element used to create a nuclear reaction and eventually begin a blast. The atomic bombs that dropped on Japan effectively ended World War II and ushered in a new period of tension, the Cold War, between U.S. and Soviet allies, which lasted well into the 1980s.

Backhus says Seagondollar didn't hide from his role in the project in later years. 

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Seagondollar was noted as distinguished alum by Emporia State in 1971. After graduating from then-Kansas State Teachers College in 1941, he was a professor at the University of Kansas for several years before serving as a professor at North Carolina State, leading its physics department for six years and ultimately retiring in 1991.

Two years ago, the Ad Astra Kansas Initiative, a grassroots organization celebrating science achievements in science, selected him as one of 150 Kansas scientists, engineers and inventors to highlight.

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