Bernard Donald Kern, 95, a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project before joining the faculty of the University of Kentucky, died Monday.
Kern was invited in January 1943 to come to the University of Chicago to work on a "secret project," which he eventually learned was the Manhattan Project, said his daughter-in-law Monica Kern. He assisted in running and repairing the cyclotron, acquiring and processing data and carrying out experiments as part of efforts to build the world's first atomic bomb.
Family lore holds that on one occasion, Kern was responsible for moving the world's entire supply of uranium from one room to another.
But Kern grew up in a Quaker family in Indiana, which kept him somewhat on the periphery of the project. When it came time to receive security clearances to continue the work, Kern's stance as a conscientious objector kept him from getting one, Monica Kern said.
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After Kern left the Manhattan Project, he joined the U.S. Navy, serving as an officer on the escort aircraft carrier Anzio, which was later redesignated CVE-57, during World War II. Monica Kern said her father-in-law rarely discussed the war or his change in ideology, but what is clear is that he "needed to do whatever he could" to help bring the suffering of the war to an end.
"It affected him greatly," she said. "He did not like to talk to us about it."
Kern's late wife, Nedda Kern, had also served in the Navy during World War II as a member of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES.
After the war, Bernard Kern earned a doctorate from Indiana University and spent a year working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory before coming to UK in 1950.
Nedda Kern told the Herald-Leader in 1993 that she and her husband had been passing through town on their way to Indiana when they decided on a whim to check into employment at UK.
"We drove on Harrodsburg Road past all these beautiful horse farms, and we thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to live here and raise a family here?'" she said. "On the return trip, he stopped and went into the physics department and there was an opening."
Kern began work as an assistant professor and in 1967 was named chairman of the physics and astronomy department.
Over the years, he also held sabbatical positions at the California Institute of Technology, University of Indonesia in Bandung and Nuclear Physics Institute in Julich, Germany.
He retired in 1985. In recent years, Kern had lived at Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore.
Monica Kern said her father-in-law had a "very scholarly" nature, and though he had dementia, his deep interest in physics remained. She said he still enjoyed talking about gravity to anyone who would listen.
Kern is survived by three sons, Richard Kern of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Jonathan Kern and Arthur Kern of Lexington, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. No services are planned.