Atomic bomb scientist dies at 83

Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 8, 2003 at 9:59 p.m.
A noted scientist who worked on the U.S. government's top-secret development of the atomic bomb and was the original inventor of the rocket fuel used by the space shuttle died Sunday in Gainesville.
Fred Ernsberger, who was born and raised in Ada, Ohio, died from a brain tumor at North Florida Regional Medical Center. He was 83.
Dr. Ernsberger, who served as an adjunct professor in materials science at the University of Florida since moving to Gainesville in 1983, joined the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., while still working on his doctorate in physical chemistry at Ohio State University during World War II. He served as a shift foreman in the Beta Unit and was accountable for every milligram of highly enriched uranium that passed through his laboratory.
After the war ended, he worked at the China Lake Naval Testing Station near Ridgecrest, Calif., and began working on the development of rocket fuels.
He invented the hydrazine-nitrogen tetraoxide rocket fuel, used by the space shuttle's control thrusters. At the time of his invention, however, there was no steel strong enough to withstand the pressures the fuel generated, and it was forgotten for more than 30 years. It was later reinvented by others using his research as a basis.
He later did pioneering research into the structure and strength of glass while working for the Mellon Institute and PPG Industries in Pittsburgh. As a result of his research, he and others developed several new products, including chemically hardened glass, highly curved automobile windshields, flat stove tops, photo masks for the manufacture of integrated circuits and eyeglasses that darken in the sunlight.
He lectured on glass construction all over the world and got many awards and honors.
He was a Boy Scout leader in Pittsburgh and enjoyed sailing.
Survivors include his wife, Ruth Ernsberger of Gainesville; sons Wesley Ernsberger of New York, Tom Ernsberger of South Hampton, England, Daniel Ernsberger of Pittsburgh and John Ernsberger of Portland, Ore.; 10 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Funeral arrangements are by Worth Cremation Service of Florida.
Douglas Jordan can be reached at 374-5036 or

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top