He studied chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 1928. Later he expanded his studies at Princeton University, where he received his doctorate in 1932. That same year he was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Berkeley, being appointed director of the Laboratory of Radiation in the same in 1934, position that he held until 1973.
In 1940, together with Philip Hauge Abelson (American nuclear physicist) he managed to create the synthetic element called neptunium (Np). It is a product obtained from uranium-239 using the cyclotron installed at the University of Berkeley.
In 1945 he also developed ideas for the improvement of the cyclotron by exceeding the theoretical limits of the speeds of particles accelerated in a cyclotron, leading to the development of the synchrotron and synchrocyclotron.
Throughout his career he bet on the progress of nuclear energy and its possible applications. This was recognized when he and Glenn T. Seaborg (American atomic and nuclear chemist) shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the creation of the first transuranium elements.
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