George C. Laurence (1961–1970)

George Craig Laurence
George Craig Laurence

Nuclear trailblazer and former Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) President

George Craig Laurence was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in 1905. Laurence attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, where he graduated with degrees in science at the bachelor's and master's levels. Although Laurence eventually found himself immersed in the field of physics, his initial intention was to study general arts. After discovering a passion for physics, he pursued a doctoral degree at Cambridge University under the guidance of Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford and his colleagues at Cambridge University were positioned at the forefront of the nuclear field when Laurence began his doctoral degree. It was during this time that Laurence began to understand the complexities of nuclear physics.

In 1930, Laurence returned to Canada to work for the National Research Council (NRC). Laurence was tasked with establishing a laboratory for studying radiation. The primary focus of Laurence's laboratory was to develop methods of measuring radiation in the treatment of cancer. Practitioners were aware of the need to protect patients from radiation, but this field of study was still new.

In 1939, like many other physicists at the time, Laurence developed an awareness of and an intense interest in the potential power of fission. He was almost the first person to generate a man-made chain reaction, an atomic pile, at the NRC laboratory. Although Enrico Fermi was first to achieve this, Laurence was the first to induce fission by neutrons in a large quantity of uranium surrounded by carbon. This illustrated the potential use of these materials for the creation of nuclear energy.

In 1945, Dr. Laurence moved to Chalk River, where he continued his work on nuclear reactor design with the ZEEP, NRX and NRU units. From 1946 to 1947, he served as scientific advisor to the Canadian delegation to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. In 1950, when ideas for a distinctive Canadian nuclear power system were being developed, it was Laurence who played a key role in implementing the design and construction.

In 1961, George Laurence became President of the AECB where he served as Chairman of the Reactor Safety Advisory Committee, which was responsible for the health and safety of nuclear reactors and power stations.

Dr. G.C. Laurence received many awards for his contributions to nuclear physics. In 1966, the Canadian Association of Physicists awarded him the Medal for Achievement in Physics and the Canadian Nuclear Association presented him with the W.B. Lewis Medal in 1975. In 1988, a special plaque was awarded posthumously to Laurence at the American Nuclear Society's annual meeting.

Take a few moments to browse our interactive timeline and learn more about the history of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and nuclear safety.

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