Renowned Physicist and Inventor of Wetsuit Dies at 92

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Hugh Bradner, renowned physicist and professor emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, died May 5, 2008, in San Diego, Calif. after a prolonged illness. He was 92 years old.  Bradner incorporated science and ocean exploration to design many notable ocean technologies. He had been affiliated with Scripps since 1961 and was professor emeritus at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP).

Bradner had a lifelong passion for the ocean.  He enjoyed diving and sailing and was one of the first Americans to make a deep-water scuba dive. In 1951, while working at UC Berkeley, he decided to spend some “weekend time” improving diving equipment for U.S. Navy frogmen. Thus began his pioneering research on the wetsuit, using a unicellular material known as neoprene.

During his career as a nuclear physicist, Bradner worked at the U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington D.C. and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley. He was also one of the founding scientists of the Los Alamos National Laboratory working on the Manhattan Project and a faculty member at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Diego.  It was at Los Alamos that he met Marjorie Hall, his wife of 65 years.

Bradner collaborated with scientific divers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who were experimenting with the new scuba regulator invented by Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan. Scripps divers first tested his wet suit designs at scuba training classes held in the pool of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

“Brad’s neoprene wetsuit was a tremendous contribution to scientific diving,” said James Stewart, professor emeritus at Scripps. “He was a great guy and a lot of fun to work with.”

Bradner enjoyed life to the fullest.  He was an avid outdoorsman who hiked in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, participating in the La Jolla Rough Water Swim, and traveling all over the world to enjoy the oceans.  He turned scientific inquiry into fun and his greatest joy was to watch as he guided students, family and friends to the discovery of something new.  He was a painter, a photographer, a jeweler - a creator of new visions, intellectual or artistic.

-- Annie Reisewitz

 

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