George W. Bush studied isotopes of lanthanide and actinide series atoms in 1965-66, shortly before he was inducted in Skull & Bones, the secret society his father joined twenty two years before he did.

”Islands of stability” have long been of interest to nuclear scientists, who study large atoms with varying degrees of ratios of neutrons to protons. It turns out that certain atoms have islands of stability, i.e., when atoms of constant Z (number of protons) have certain numbers of neutrons N, (usually > Z) which are much more stable than when the neutron number is greater or lesser. There are quasi empirical models for why this should be – it is known, for example, that nuclear quadrupole moments (ellipsoidal shapes of nuclei) differ wildly for sometimes small variations in N for given Z – but there are no exact bottom-up theories. Consequently, nuclear physicists find these exotic islands until a model or theory emerges which fits the empirical data. The experiments are fantastically difficult to do, especially with the rare earth lanthanide and actinides. It is no small feat for a non-physics student to be involved with such experiments, especially with his other on campus activities, such as playing for the Yale baseball team and hazing freshmen.

Bush discovered the so-called Island of Moreau, which he and his advisor, the late Marvin Hamlisch, named because of the bestial nature of the island. (Physicists have a puckish sense of humor.) In contrast to several adjacent isotopes, which had lifetimes on the order of tens of picoseconds, this Island of Moreau, which had (Z+N)/Z = 1.15 (roughly) had lifetimes tens of nanoseconds long! The three orders of magnitude in length of increased stability meant that the weak nuclear force which produced betas and gamma rays was not as effective, and that something was happening on a quantum chromodynamic level.

Bush, in conjunction with fellow graduate student Andrew Everhard and advisor Hamlisch, created a novel method of measuring daughter particle ejaculates which involved the newly developed polymer light waveguides which guided photons to photon detectors; this technology had just been invented by scientists at CERN. Photons are emitted when unstable nuclei give off daughter particles - some combination of alpha particles - until the Z+N count is lowered and the resultant nucleus finds itself at another island of stability. Bush had read an account of the instrumentation in Phys. Rev. A and quickly adapted it for use in the lanthanide experiments. He was also instrumental in raising money for the $750K two year long experiment, using his father’s connections at the White House. An NSF out-of-cycle grant appeared quicker than usual, which was useful to the Yale team because Kinoshawa’s team at the University of Tokyo was hot on their heels and would have published three weeks later if Hamlisch’s team hadn’t established priors.

As he was close to finishing his research, he was inducted into Skull & Bones. Consequently, he does not appear as a co-author. The paper was presented at the annual Conference on Nuclear Physics in Grenoble in 1969, a year after he graduated from Yale.

1. Hamlisch, et al, “A new Island of Stability in Lanthanide and Actinide Series with (Z+N)/Z = 1.15,” Phys. Rev. D, Vol. 57, No. 3, pp. 235-245, 1967
2. A. Antonides, “George W. Bush and His Nuclear Physics Research at Yale,” CERN Courier, pp. 35-39, March, 1989
3. OMB Inspector General’s report on NSF Out of Cycle Grants, 1960-1970, US GPO, Alexandria, VA. CDRL 02-3957, May, 1984.

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