Ernst David Bergmann (Hebrew: ארנסט דוד ברגמן; 1903 – April 6, 1975) was an Israeli nuclear scientist and chemist. He is often considered the father of the Israeli nuclear program.
Life and Education
Bergmann was born in Germany to Rabbi Judah Bergmann. He studied at the University of Berlin under Wilhelm Schlenk, where he received his Ph.D. in 1927. Bergmann continued to work at the university, and with Schlenk, wrote Ausführliches Lehrbuch der Organischen Chemie, which was published in two volumes 1932 and later in 1939; however, the fact that Bergmann was Jewish caused his name to be removed from the title page of the 1939 edition.
Bergmann left for London in 1933 soon after the Nazis came to power, and began work with chemist and Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann. He turned down an offer of a position at Oxford from Sir Robert Robinson, an event that Sir Robinson recalled years later with anger. Bergmann left Europe less than a year later, and arrived in Mandatory Palestine on January 1, 1934, to work at the Daniel Sieff Research Institute. During World War II he left to work on defense projects for the French, English, and Americans. Just a year after the war, Bergmann returned to the Sieff Institute in Rehovot, Israel, and continued there through its expansion in 1949 into the Weizmann Institute of Science.
He was married to the chemist Ottilie Blum.
IAEC Career and Chairmanship
During the next several years Bergmann, who had become famous through his work and connection with Weizmann, became close friends with David Ben-Gurion, and was appointed to several prominent government positions: chief of the Israel Defense Forces' science department in August 1948, science adviser to minister of defense on July 15, 1951, and director of research of the Division of Research and Infrastructure of the Ministry of Defense in early 1952. In June 1952, he was appointed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to be the first chairman of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), where he played a crucial role in leading the Israel nuclear program with Ben-Gurion and Defense Minister Shimon Peres.
That same year, he left the Weizmann Institute to become the chair of organic chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and worked with graduate students for the next two years at Technion in Haifa.
Bergmann's work at the IAEC was shrouded in secrecy, and the agency itself was unknown to the public until he revealed its existence in 1954. Bergmann offered to resign in June 1964 after Ben-Gurion had been replaced by Levi Eshkol, but was convinced to remain for two more years. He resigned as chair of the IAEC and the two defense ministry posts on April 1, 1966.
During his lifetime Bergmann published more than 500 peer reviewed scientific papers in international journals, and made critical contributions to fluorine chemistry.
In 1968, Bergmann was awarded the Israel Prize in life sciences.