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Talbot Albert Chubb, a physicist whose career at the Naval Research Laboratory spanned more than three decades, died on 10 December 2011 of cardiac-related sepsis in Arlington, Virginia, at age 88. Born on 5 November 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was the youngest of three sons of Charles Frisby Chubb and Mary Clare Carroll Albert Chubb.
Chubb was inspired to pursue the study of physics by his two elder brothers, who were both active in the field. He received his undergraduate physics degree from Princeton University in 1944 and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of North Carolina in 1951, completing the thesis “A Study of the Philips Gage Discharge.”
During World War II, Chubb served in the U.S. Army and worked for the Manhattan Project at the Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which produced enriched uranium and plutonium for atomic bombs. In the early 1950s, he joined the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, where he conducted research on Earth’s upper atmosphere using a series of balloons, rockets and satellites. Chubb described his initial years at NRL for the oral history project of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics:
“I guess I was just assigned to work on geiger counters. The first BTs, with the X-ray and ultraviolet counters, had already been flown, yet there was a lot to be learned about what gave them their sensitivity and determined their characteristics. This area of work fitted in more or less with my background in gas discharge physics, although I had never really worked with a geiger counter before. My first years, a lot of them, were spent learning to use the ultraviolet monochromators , measuring the spectral response of the ultraviolet counters, measuring the absorption characteristics of simple gasses throughout the ultraviolet, and photoionization yields and characteristics. So I naturally was, I guess, more or less assigned the responsibility for all the sensors that we put on the rockets.” [Interview of Herbert Friedman, Talbot Chubb, E. T. Byram and Robert Kreplin by David DeVorkin on 1986 December 12, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics]
Later Chubb turned his attentions to solar phenomena and also became one of the pioneers of x-ray astronomy. In 1965, using a rocket-borne detector, his team detected x-ray emission from Tycho’s supernova remnant. And following the 1969 discovery of a radio pulsar in the Crab Nebula, Chubb and his NRL colleagues were first to detect the pulsar’s x-ray emission. After retiring from NRL in 1981, Chubb consulted to University Space Research Associates, Bendix Field Engineering Corporation, and Oakton International Corp. He also worked with his nephew, Scott Chubb, on the theoretical and experimental aspects of low-energy nuclear fusion (“cold fusion”). Together they formed the Cold Fusion Energy Research Co. to promote research in this field. In 1963, Chubb was awarded the NRL’s E. O. Hulburt Science Award, and in 1978 he received both the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award for his work in space science and the NRL RESA Pure Science Award.
Chubb’s wife of 42 years, Martha Capps Chubb, died in 1990. Survivors include four children, Carroll Chubb of Ottawa, Nancy Chubb of Pittsburgh, Spence Chubb of Falls Church, and Constance Chubb of Arlington; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Photo credit: Charles Beaudette
Obituary written by: Alan Hirshfeld (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth)
BAAS Citation: BAAS, 2018, 50, 008