Thanks for coming
Carnegie Corp. honors alumnus as one of America’s great immigrants.
Siegfried “Sig” Hecker ’65, MS ’67, PhD ’68, immigrated to America at age 13. Four years later, he was named valedictorian of Cleveland’s East High School and won a scholarship to Case Institute of Technology.
Hecker earned three metallurgy degrees from Case, including his doctorate, on his way to becoming director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
On July 4, he was named one of America’s “Great Immigrants” by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The renowned nuclear scientist was included in an honor role of 34 naturalized Americans that incudes rock ‘n’ roll legend Neil Young, tennis champion Steffi Graff and Nobel laureate and physicist Syukuro Manabe.
Each year, the Carnegie Corp. spotlights immigrants whose contributions and actions have enriched and strengthened U.S. society and the nation’s democracy, in the spirit of Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie. Hecker seems to fit all the criteria of an American success story.
He lost his father in World War II and left Austria in 1956 to join family in Cleveland, which proved a good place to launch. In a 2019 interview, Hecker noted he landed in a city teeming with immigrants. He was elected president of his high school class despite still struggling with English.
“I have a soft spot for refugees and immigrants,” he said in 2019. “I will never forget how this country welcomed me with open arms.”
After spending the early 1970s as a metallurgist at General Motors, Hecker joined Los Alamos in 1973 and rose through the ranks of materials science to become director from 1986 to 1997. With his deep knowledge of plutonium and doomsday weapons, he became the nation’s foremost nuclear weapons negotiator and nonproliferation expert. His work took him to forbidden zones in the former Soviet Union, China and even North Korea.
In 2004, Hecker was honored by the Case Alumni Association with its Gold Medal.
Now a professor emeritus at Stanford University, he remains one of the nation’s most influential nuclear scientists.