Lyman James Briggs was born on May 7, 1874, on a farm in Assyria, Michigan, 12 miles north of Battle Creek. Lyman Briggs College is named after this distinguished scientist, administrator, and writer. Dr. Briggs entered Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) by examination in 1889 at the age of fifteen.
Although he majored in agriculture, his interest centered on mechanical engineering and later physics. He received his B.S. degree in 1893. After leaving Michigan Agricultural College, Lyman Briggs entered Johns Hopkins University for further graduate study in the Ph.D. program in physics.
In June of 1898, Dr. Briggs joined the Department of Agriculture and began his nearly 60 years of government service. While working with the Department of Agriculture, he developed a method of soil classification known as the moisture equivalent, which is still a standard technique in testing soils.
Dr. Briggs was appointed Director of the Bureau of Standards in 1933. In 1939, President Roosevelt called on Dr. Briggs. He was asked to head a top-secret project to investigate the possibility of utilizing energy from the atomic fission of uranium. Although detailed information about this group remains classified, the committee's expanded responsibilities led to the Manhattan Project, which later developed the Atom bomb.
Much of the groundwork on the methods of purification of uranium, establishment of specific properties, and separation of isotopes of uranium was accomplished at the National Bureau of Standards under the direction of Lyman Briggs. As a member of National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics, Dr. Briggs conducted research in aerodynamics and flow around air foils, which had application in the design of aircraft propellers. He also headed the instrument work in connection with two historic stratospheric balloon launchings. The balloon Explorer II instruments which Dr. Briggs helped to design reached world record altitudes.
Although Dr. Briggs was primarily known as a distinguished scientist, more than that, contemporaries knew him as a warm and modest human being. At the time of Dr. Briggs' death in April of 1963, he held honorary doctorates from Michigan State University, George Washington, Georgetown and Columbia Universities, and the University of Michigan.
Articles about Lyman Briggs
National Academy of Sciences - Lyman James Briggs (PDF)
Soil Science Society of America Journal - The life and Scientific Contributions of Lyman J. Briggs (PDF)
Fun links about Lyman Briggs
Original Article by Briggs (re: Curveballs)