Los Alamos National Laboratory

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In Memoriam

Honoring Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows and their contributions to the institution.

Nerses “Krik” Krikorian

A Laboratory Luminary: Nerses “Krik” Krikorian

Terry Wallace, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, writes “ Many of you knew and worked with Krik—he was a giant in the world of national security science and the Los Alamos community. He contributed enormously to the mission of the Laboratory, and I can say with confidence it’s a better place because of him. As we celebrate our 75 years as a Laboratory, few people have been more impactful on our history than Krik. He leaves an enduring legacy that will continue far into the future.”

Nerses (Krik) Krikorian was born in 1921 on a Turkish Roadside. Fleeing the Armenian genocide, he and his family moved to several countries for the next four years, finding refuge in Canada and eventually settling in Niagara Falls, New York. It was there that he graduated in 1943 with honors and a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from Niagara University.

In 1943 -1946, Krik began his career as a uranium chemist working for the Manhattan Project at Union Carbide in New York from.   After World War II in 1946, he was asked to join the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He told the Los Alamos Monitor: “I went from working with kilograms of uranium at Union Carbide to micrograms of highly radioactive polonium.  I went from the sublime to the ridiculous.”   Los Alamos was also the place where he met his future wife, Katherine “Pat” Patterson, who was a member of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) and worked as a secretary for the Manhattan Project.

In the mid-1950s, he began working on Project Rover, a joint effort between the Atomic Energy Commission and NASA. He succeeded in building a thermal nuclear rocket for space applications. He was responsible for ensuring that materials used in the rocket would support the rigorous demands of nuclear propulsion at high temperatures.  This was especially challenging since there was little research done in this field at the time. He continued to work on this project until it was canceled in 1972. It was at this time when Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Harold Agnew asked Krikorian to join a newly developed intelligence community.  He was one of six original staff members assigned to this unit and eventually became the group’s security officer. While serving in this position, he had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Soviet Union’s nuclear research program.

Krik retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1991, with many accolades bestowed to him.  He was named a LANL Fellow and received the Los Alamos Medal; the CIA’s Intelligence Community Medallion, and two honorary doctorates.  In September, 2009, Krikorian was named to Niagara Legacy’s Alumni of Distinction. Throughout his career, Krik had six patents and published numerous technical papers. The topics ranged from laser isotope separation and high-temperature reactor materials to directed-energy nuclear weapons.

Krik also had a great influence in the Los Alamos Community, working on the County Charter and a founding member of the J. Oppenheimer Memorial Committee.

Information obtained from: The Los Alamos Monitor and the Atomic Heritage Foundation:

Supplemental information can be found in an article featuring Krikorian on May, 2017 on the LANL internal homepage:  “Be Iconic” https://int.lanl.gov/news/features/lab-character/krik-krikorian.shtml

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