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Dr. Richard Moore, Radium Expert, Dies


Writer(s): New York Times


First to Isolate Element Here, He Fails to Rally by Its Use in His Final Illness

Developed Use of Helium

One of the World’s Leading Chemists and Former Co-Worker with Ramsay Succumbs at 59.

Dr. Richard Bishop Moore, one of the world’s leading chemists and the first scientist to isolate radium and helium in the United States, died yesterday in the Memorial Hospital of a brain tumor and double pneumonia after an illness of six months.

Dr. Moore, who at his death was dean of science and head of the chemistry department of Purdue University at Lafayette, Ind. Was 59 years old. From 1919 to 1923 he was chief chemist of the United States Bureau of Mines.

Dr. Moore became ill in July and two months ago was taken to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where an operation was performed to lessen the pressure on his brain. It was found impossible to remove the tumor and he was brought to the hospital here on Dec. 17 for radium treatments, but despite the efforts of several prominent physicians, using the element which Dr. Moore had been so active in developing, he grew steadily worse and pneumonia set in on Saturday.

Dr. Moore was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 6, 1871. He went to England in 1878 with his parents, his father having taken an editorial position in London. He attended Argyle college in London, remaining there until 1883, and enrolled subsequently at St. Edmund’s College, London, at the Insitut Keller in Paris and at University College, London, where he studied under the late Dr. William Ramsay, discoverer of helium, whose influence prompted him to become a chemist and with whom he was later associated in advanced scientific research.

Dr. Moore worked for several years as an instructor at Oswestry High School and Birkbeck Institute, London. He returned to America in 1895 and in 1897 became instructor in chemistry at the University of Missouri. In 1905 he took a professorship of chemistry at Butler College, remaining until 1911.

it was in 1900, with Dr. Herman Schlundt, that Dr. Moore began at the University of Missouri his work in radioactivity, although he spent his 1907-08 sabbatical year with Sir William Ramsay and the latter’s laboratory and there achieved an advanced technique in radioactivity.

Began Study in Rare Gases

During the additional year with Sir William, Dr. Moore laid the foundation for his later research in rare gases.

Dr. Moore was appointed assistant chief of the Division of Chemical and Physical Investigations in the Bureau of Soils, Department of Agriculture, in 1911, and there became immensely interested in the development of the radioactive ores of Southwestern Colorado and Eastern Utah. He was transferred in 1912 to the Bureau of Mines, of which he became physical chemist in charge of the chemistry and metallurgy of rare metals.

At his own request Dr. Moore was detailed to establish a rare metals experiment station of the bureau in Denver, Col., and in 1913 he made the first suggestion that radium be actually produced in the United States. He found that Europe was purchasing radium ores in this country and selling back at a very high price the radium produced from these ores. Accordingly, Dr. Moore developed his own technique for extraction and raised funds for founding the National Radium Institute with a plant at Denver for the production of radium. There he produced 8.5 grams of radium element and 60,000 pounds of 95 per cent uranium oxide, much of which was brought to the Memorial Hospital here for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Radium having a market value of nearly $1,000,000 an ounce, was produced by the process carried out under his direction.

Soon after the United States entered the World War Dr. Moore conceived the idea of substituting helium for the inflammable hydrogen in dirigibles and convinced the government of the feasibility of his plan. The war ended too soon for helium to be used by American airships, but Dr. Moore’s continued researches and helium recovery from natural gas resulted in reducing the cost per cubic foot to ten cents while he was still in the Bureau of Mines and to the adoption of helium as the gas for all American airships.

Urged Radium in Cancer Treatment

Other of Dr. Moore’s accomplishments while in the Bureau of Mines, of which he became chief chemist in 1919, included directing to the attention of American physicians the value of radium in cancer treatment, the discovery of mesothorium, used in place of radium in luminous paints, and researches in the liquefaction of gases.

In charge all helium work for the Bureau of Mines from 1918 to 1923, Dr. Moore was a member of the United States Helium Board from 1920 to 1923 and was ever ardent defender of the safe properties of the gas.

He left government service in 1923 because of salary limitations, joining the Dorr Company, Inc., consulting engineers, in New York, and later becoming its general manager. His heart was in research, however, and in 1926 he went to Purdue. He at once started to encourage the research spirit in all departments in the university and it was largely through his efforts that he obtained the promise of the erection of a new chemical building, the first unit of which is approaching completion, and which is expected to be one of the finest of its kind in the United States. It will cost about $1,000,000.

In recognition of his work Dr. Moore received the William Longstreth and Howard Potts medals of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, and in 1926 the Perkin medal awarded annually by the American section of the Society of the Chemical Industry by a vote of five different chemical societies to the American chemist who has most distinguished himself by his services to applied chemistry

Dr. Moore was member of many scientific societies.

He was a member of the Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C.; the University Club here and the board of directors of the Chemists’ Club here. When Mme. Curie, co-discover of radium, first visited America, Dr. Moore, who knew her well, and whom she had invited to work with her, was one of the speakers welcoming her to America in the name of science. He was the author of “A Laboratory Chemistry,” published in 1904, and of papers on radi-activity, inorganic physical chemistry and rare gases.

Richard B. Moore, New York Times, obituary image