The story of Dr. George Sam Hurst

Published 12:40 pm Monday, August 6, 2018

On Aug. 5, 1945, our nation bombed Hiroshima with the first atomic weapon used in war. A Bell County native, George Sam Hurst, connects with that event and especially with the fallout.

Who was he? Sam Hurst was born Oct. 13, 1927 in Ponza. To find Ponza, go six miles out of Pineville on U.S. 119, cross the Calvin bridge and go back down river for a mile.

He left Bell High at age 15 and enrolled in Berea College. In 1947, he graduated from Berea with a bachelor’s degree in physics and math. A year later, in 1948, he graduated from the University of Kentucky with a master’s degree in physics. He got a job doing research in Health Physics at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He made $325.00 a month. Eleven years later, in 1959, he earned a Ph. D in physics from the University of Tennessee. Berea College awarded him an honorary doctorate.

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Hurst eventually went into business and called his company Elographics. Millions of people connect with Elographics every day for Hurst and company hold patents on some touchscreen technologies. McDonalds and Hardees use touchscreens every day.

At one time he was called “The Thomas Edison of Oak Ridge” because of his abilities as an inventor. In a more serious vein, he helped create radiation test equipment to measure radiation exposure levels in people. Some were neutron dosimetry and spectroscopy. He did field sample analysis. His work area was health physics, so these detectors were needed to establish how much radiation exposure a worker or soldier could tolerate.

In the 1950s, he was sent to Hiroshima for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission to study the death rates of survivors. The Atomic Energy Commission sent him to the Nevada Bomb Test Site in 1953 to gather radiation data on human exposure. He has authored and/or co-authored 137 articles in professional journals.

I had the privilege of first meeting Dr. Hurst in 2000. His niece, Debbie, started telling me one day, “You need to meet Uncle Sam.”

She kept after me about it. But there was some humor or something in her voice when she said it that I expected to meet some kind of performer – maybe a man on stilts in a red, white and blue flag costume like we often see in parades or at the circus. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a nuclear physicist, inventor and atomic scientist and not a clown.

Hurst lived in Oak Ridge and would come to Bell County to visit and Debbie would connect us. I got to know him. At his suggestion we formed the “Oak Ridge Forum on Science and Religion.”

The group met once a month to consider issues of how religion and science connected and related to each other. Some of the scientists that had part in the building of the bomb came to the meetings. The meetings ended after six years when Hurst started having health issues. Perhaps his niece was right to call him “Uncle Sam.” He died on July 4, 2010.