Dr. Jack Shlachter
By Kirsten Laskey
Work sometimes gets a bad rep. It is easy to consider a job a necessity but not something that is entirely embraced.
Sometimes to truly appreciate an occupation you need to do what Theoretical Division Deputy Division leader Jack Shlachter did and do some digging. You may just luck out, as Shlachter did, and discover some amazing insights about your workplace.
Shlachter is a Ph.D. physicist as well as an ordained rabbi. He has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 33 years. He arrived as a graduate student and stayed on, and has worked in various divisions at the laboratory.
He worked the bulk of his career in the Controlled Thermal Nuclear Research Division and then moved to the P (Physics) Division. A few years ago, he transferred into the Theoretical Division.
Shlachter noted that while some divisions no longer exist such as Controlled Thermal Nuclear Research, the Theoretical Division has existed, uninterrupted, since its conception.
And what a history it has had. Shlachter will shine the spotlight on many of the division’s leaders during the Los Alamos Historical Society’s lecture at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8 at Fuller Lodge.
The title of Shlachter’s talk is “Jews in Theory.” The play on words reflects that many of the Theoretical Division’s leaders in 1945 were Jewish but many of them did not practice Judaism.
Shlachter describes this group of leaders as “just a very colorful group of individuals.”
Some were born in America; others emigrated from Europe to escape Nazi occupation while others arrived solely to work on the Manhattan Project.
Looking at the group, it was not surprising, Shlachter said, that their religion was not a prominent part of their lives because education was highly valued, some experienced anti-Semitism and there was the race to develop the atomic bomb.
During the presentation, Shlachter said he will provide anecdotes about some of these individuals such as Richard Feynman. “He’s the most colorful of the colorful.” He noted Feynman was also the youngest of the division leaders.
There was also George Placzek, who had lost family members in the concentration camps and was strongly influenced by his grandfather, who was a rabbi and interested in Darwin.
Looking at the entire roster of group division leaders during this period of time, Shlachter said it is “the finest assemblage of theorists the U.S. could put together.”
He pointed out these individuals had a lot of strength of character to “be a part of something that changed the world.”
It is something that can still be felt today within the walls of the Theoretical Division.
“They had a sense of purpose and knew the importance of working as a team and working individually,” he said. “That’s still part of Los Alamos. There’s synergy among talented scientists who share their individual ideas with a collective mission that’s still there today.”
To work in the same place as the individuals in his talk, Shlachter said, “I am extremely proud to be a part of the organization and I am also humbled to be part of the organization. It is quite a legacy.”
He encourages others to explore the legacies in their own workplaces.
“Very often people get immersed in the details of their work and I think it can be inspirational to sit up and be inspired to push back the barriers that make work difficult.”