Oral history interview with Darleane C. Hoffman

  • 2012-Feb-28 – 2012-Feb-29

Darleane (Christian) Hoffman was born in Terril, Iowa, one of two children. She grew up "all over" Iowa as her father was a public school superintendent who soon moved to Coon Rapids and then to West Union. Her mother, a housewife, had studied oratory and music in college and encouraged Hoffmann's participation in both vocal and instrumental music. Mathematics was her favorite subject in high school. The family often spent summer vacations at the Iowa “Great Lakes” where her father found summer employment and she learned to swim and developed her life-long love of swimming. She graduated in 1944 as co-valedictorian of her class and decided to enter Iowa State College, Ames, Iowa to study applied art. Fortunately, Prof. Nellie Naylor's required freshman chemistry class changed her mind. Hoffman found chemistry "the most interesting, most logical, most useful" possible subject. In addition to classwork Darleane also waited tables, continued to swim, and sang in church and dormitory choirs. During her senior year, she began undergraduate research with Prof. Don Martin at the newly completed Synchrotron, and continued research for her PhD there. She met Physics student Marvin Hoffman in 1948 and they both pursued research at the Synchrotron. Darleane received her PhD in only three years. She married Marvin six days after receiving her PhD in December 1951. Marvin stayed in Iowa to finish his PhD, while in January 1952 Darleane took a position at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to help support them. Marvin finished his degree later that year and accepted a position at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, New Mexico where Darleane was also promised a position in the Radiochemistry Division. There was nothing in writing and Darleane encountered numerous roadblocks, including being told "We don't hire women in that Division" to having her Q-clearance lost. Finally, in March 1953 Darleane managed to join Dr. Roderick Spence's Radiochemistry group. It was an exceedingly productive time for her and she published many papers on radiochemical separations and the discovery of Plutonium-244 in nature. During the years in Los Alamos, she also had two children, returning to work immediately, spent a sabbatical year in Norway, received a Guggenheim award to work in Berkeley with Glenn Seaborg, and became the first woman technical division leader. In 1984 Hoffman was offered a tenured professorship in the Chemistry Department at UC Berkeley, the second woman full professor, and became Heavy Element Nuclear and Radiochemistry Group Leader at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And after thirty years, she left Los Alamos to help educate the next generation of nuclear and radiochemists. Her group confirmed the discovery of element 106, enabling the discoverers to propose the name Seaborgium and she led the struggle with IUPAC to finally confirm it in 1997. She regards co-founding the Seaborg Institutes for Transactinium Sciences with Christopher Gatrousis and Glenn Seaborg at Livermore in 1996 and later at Berkeley and Los Alamos, as one of her most important contributions. Hoffman continues to write papers, give addresses, and receive awards, among them the cherished 1997 National Medal of Science (her seven year-old granddaughter attended the ceremony) and the Priestley Award (the highest ACS award) in 2000. Marie Curie has always been a role model for her. To conclude her interview she cautions young people to choose a supportive and helpful spouse or significant other. She thanks her mother and husband for their gracious and extraordinary help and support which made her career possible.

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