Issue Date: April 4, 2011
Berthus B. (B. B.) McInteer
Berthus B. (B. B.) McInteer, 90, staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 32 years, died on Nov. 27, 2010, in Los Alamos, N.M., after a short illness.
After obtaining his Ph.D. under Alfred O. C. Nier at the University of Minnesota, McInteer began his career at Los Alamos. McInteer’s group developed a thermal diffusion method to enrich tritium for early tests of thermonuclear weapons. This process served as the basis for the industrial system used to enrich tritium at the Savannah River Site, in South Carolina, for use in nuclear weapons. He also characterized magnesium hydride, designed a nuclear thermal rocket engine, and coinvented a drilling technology that led to the formation of the Geothermal Energy Division at Los Alamos.
It is in the area of isotope separation, however, that McInteer’s work had an epic impact. McInteer’s development of large-scale cryogenic distillation methods enabled the widespread application of nontoxic stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen in chemistry and other fields. Prior to his work, the availability of such isotopes was limited and the cost was prohibitive.
Isotopic labeling is crucial to the elucidation of chemical reaction mechanisms, it enables the analysis of proteins and other large biomolecules, and it is fundamental to modern structural nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The development of an industry synthesizing isotopically labeled precursors, amino acids, and pharmaceuticals is another consequence of McInteer’s work. He also improved simple isotope-ratio determinations, resulting in the formation of Isotope Services, a Los Alamos company that provided isotopic analysis services.
McInteer is survived by his wife, Carlotta; eight children; numerous grandchildren; and his sister, Sarah Becker.
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