Ervin Kenneth Hulet (Ken), a noted Laboratory nuclear chemist whose accomplishments include discovering a new element, died June 29 of lung cancer at his home in Diablo, Calif. He was 84.
Born May 7, 1926, in Baker, Ore., Hulet grew up in eastern Oregon and Washington. He attended college and joined the Navy ROTC, serving in the military during the last year of World War II. He attended and graduated from Stanford University, where he studied chemistry and met his wife, Betty Jo (Joey) Gardner.
He went to work as a health chemist at UC Berkeley but left the job to work as a doctoral student with noted faculty member Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry who contributed to the discovery of 10 elements.
In 1953, after earning his doctorate, Hulet joined the Laboratory, which had been founded the previous year. In 1962, he accepted a one-year Fulbright Fellowship to work in Oslo, Norway, and after his return, the family moved to Diablo.
Lab chemist Ken Moody who met Hulet while a graduate student and worked with him at LLNL, remembers him as “really thorough.” “If you were doing something, your method had to be beyond reproach,” Moody said.
In 1967, Hulet discovered mendelevium-258, what was then the heaviest atomic nucleus. A collaboration between Hulet’s group and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory led to the 1974 discovery of a new element with atomic number 106, which was named seaborgium in honor of Seaborg.
Hulet went on to discover a new form of nuclear fission — bimodal symmetric fission — which had not been anticipated by the theories of nuclear physics.
He retired in 1991 to help his wife through her treatment for lung cancer. She died three months later.
Hulet is survived by his daughter Carri Gicker of Nevada City; son, Randy Hulet of Houston; four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and companion, Bobbette Cochran.
Services are pending.