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Robert F. Christy (born 1916 in Vancouver) is an American theoretical physicist and later astrophysicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. He is a Professor Emeritus at Caltech.

Christy was raised in British Columbia and attended the University of British Columbia in the 1930's studying physics during the blossoming of quantum physics. Following the path blazed by George Volkoff who was a year ahead of him at UBC, Christy was accepted as a graduate student by Robert Oppenheimer at UC Berkeley, the leading theoretical physicist in the US at that time.

Christy received his PhD in 1941 and joined the Illinois Institute of Technology, however he also spent time at the University of Chicago where he was recruited by Enrico Fermi to join the effort to build the first reactor, having been recommended as a theory resource by Oppenheimer.

When Oppenheimer formed the Los Alamos Laboratory as part of the Manhattan Project, Christy was one of the early recruits to join the Theory Group. Christy is generally credited with the insight that a solid sub-critical mass of plutonium could be explosively compressed into supercriticality, a great simplification of earlier concepts of implosion requiring hollow shells. For this insight the solid-core plutonium model is often referred to as the "Christy gadget".

Christy joined the University of Chicago Physics department briefly after leaving Los Alamos before being recruited to join the Caltech faculty in 1946. He stayed at Caltech for his academic career, serving as Department Chair, Provost and Acting President.

In 1960 Christy turned his attention to astrophysics, creating some the first practical computation models of stellar operation. For this work Christy was awarded the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1967.

He currently resides in Pasadena.

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* Text of the Eddington award speech

Astronomers

Astronomy Encyclopedia

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