Norman Feather (16 November 1904 – 14 August 1978).
Norman Feather was born in Crimsworth, Yorkshire, 16 November 1904. In 1932 he married Kathleen Grace Burke and they had one son and twin daughters.
He was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh from 1945 to 1975, then Emeritus Professor. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was a Fellow of Trinity College 1929-33 then Fellow and Lecturer in Natural Sciences, Trinity College 1936-45.
In 1940 Feather and Egon Bretscher at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge made a breakthrough in nuclear research for the Tube Alloys project when they proposed that the 239 isotope of element 94 could be produced from the common isotope of uranium-238 by neutron capture and that, like U-235, this should be able to sustain a nuclear chain reaction. Hence a slow neutron reactor fuelled with uranium would in theory produce substantial amounts of plutonium-239as a by-product. This is because U-238 absorbs slow neutrons so forming a new isotope U-239. The new isotope's nucleus rapidly emits an electron, decaying into new element with a mass of 239 and an atomic number of 93. This element's nucleus then also emits an electron and becomes a new element of mass 239 but with an atomic number 94 and a much greater half-life. Bretscher and Feather showed theoretically feasible grounds that element 94 would be readily 'fissionable' by both slow and fast neutrons, and had the added advantage of being chemically different from uranium and therefore could easily be separated from it.
This was confirmed independently in 1940 by Edwin M. McMillan and Philip Abelson at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. Nicholas Kemmer of the Cambridge team proposed the names Neptunium for the new element 93 and Plutonium for 94 by analogy with the outer planets Neptune and Pluto beyond Uranus (uranium being element 92). The Americans fortuitously suggested the same names. The production and identification of the first sample of plutonium in 1941 is generally credited to Glenn Seaborg, who used a cyclotron rather than a reactor.