Moore, Richard Bishop (6 May 1871-20 Jan. 1931), chemist, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of William Thomas Moore, a minister of the Disciples of Christ, and Mary (maiden name unknown). In 1878 Moore's parents moved to England, where Richard received the greater part of his education. He studied at University College, London, under William Ramsay, the discoverer of several inert gases, from 1886 to 1890. He became a chemistry instructor in a high school and then at Birkbeck Institute, London, until 1893. After two years of study in the British Museum, Moore returned to the United States and earned a bachelor's degree in a year from the University of Chicago (1896). He remained at Chicago as an assistant for another year and from 1897 to 1905 was a chemistry instructor at the University of Missouri, where he conducted his first experiments on radioactivity. In 1902 he married Callie Pemberton of Auxvasse, Missouri.

The science of radioactivity was new and exciting in the century's first decade. Early progress had been made in the study of the physical properties of the radiations; now it was the chemists' turn to investigate the radioelements themselves. American leaders in this field, Bertram B. Boltwood and Herbert N. McCoy, sought to establish reproducible standards and determine the relative activities of the components of the decay series. In this work they had the valued support of scientists of the second rank, such as Moore. With his colleague at Missouri, Herman Schlundt, Moore in 1905 measured the radioactivity of several deep wells near their school. Later he surveyed the thermal waters of Yellowstone National Park for their radioactive properties. Ground water, air, soil, and even the mist at Niagara Falls were found to be active in this period, so this work fit in well with proof of the widespread occurrence of radioactivity. Moore and Schlundt also devised techniques for separating uranium X from its parent uranium and made the exciting claim that the former emits an alpha particle. This theory was important in helping to account for the twelve mass units between uranium and radium. Their conclusion was wrong (the alpha came from an unsuspected radioelement, uranium II), but their work was a valuable step in ferreting out the components of this decay series.

Moore next served as chemistry professor at Butler College, in Indianapolis, Indiana, until 1911, after which he spent a dozen years in the U.S. Bureau of Soils and the Bureau of Mines. As chief of the Bureau of Mines' laboratory in Denver, Moore in 1912 made the first detailed survey of the carnotite deposits in Colorado and Utah. He revealed that this uranium mineral was the largest source of radium in the world. Concentrated ore was shipped abroad for purification, and the tiny amount of radium extracted was sold in the United States for medical use at prices over $100,000 a gram. Charging that such prices were excessive, Moore led successful efforts to devise efficient separations techniques and build a domestic radium industry. Promoted to chief chemist of the bureau in 1919, Moore was put in charge of work with helium. Since the alpha particle is actually a helium nucleus, and much helium originates from radioactive decay, Moore's interest probably derived from his student days with Ramsay and a leave he spent in Ramsay's laboratory from 1907 to 1908, during which he worked on inert gases. He was an early advocate of helium's use in balloons and airships, and he encouraged the U.S. government to protect this resource.

From 1923 to 1926 Moore was employed by the Dorr Company, an engineering firm in New York. His last appointment was as professor of chemistry and dean of the school of science at Purdue University. In 1924 he married Georgie Elizabeth Dowell of Dallas Texas. They adopted five-year-old Carol in 1930. He died in New York City.



An obituary is in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, News Edition, 10 Feb. 1931, p. 40. Information may also be found in Lawrence Badash, Radioactivity in America: Growth and Decay of a Science (1979).

Lawrence Badash

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American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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