08/03/2011 - 19:07

Jonathan B. Tucker, noted biosecurity expert, 1954-2011

Jonathan B. Tucker, member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board and leading biosecurity expert, died recently at his home in Washington, DC. His passing leaves an enormous void in the global community of experts on biotechnology, biological weapons, chemical weapons, nonproliferation, arms control, and disease.

Jonathan joined the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2009 and provided thoughtful commentary in the journal, sage advice on editorial direction, and dispassionate observations in our Doomsday Clock deliberations. We depended on him to guide us in the new and rapidly changing field of biological engineering.

Early on Jonathan developed expertise in biological and chemical weapons, a field populated by few knowledgeable analysts. He went on to become an expert on infectious disease and later, on biotechnology advances such as synthetic biology. Jonathan's gifts were the ability to argue strongly but without rancor or anger and to write engagingly. He was one of the few experts in the field to provide sane, grounded analysis of issues and to explain them to policymakers and the public.

Jonathan earned a biology degree (cum laude) at Yale University and a Ph.D. from MIT in political science. He held a number of government positions, including at the US State Department, in the Office of Technology Assessment, and in the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He was a member of the US delegation to the preparatory commission for the Chemical Weapons Convention and served as a biological weapons inspector for the United Nations in Iraq in 1995.

Jonathan spent 1996 to 2010 at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He left CNS in 2010 to become the George Zundel Professor of Science and Technology for Peace and Security at Darmstadt University of Technology in Darmstadt, Germany. In 2011 he returned to Washington, DC, where he managed the Biosecurity Education Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

He was a talented writer and author of many books, including Ellie: A Child's Fight Against Leukemia (Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1982), Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox (Grove/Atlantic, 2001), Biosecurity: Limiting Terrorist Access to Deadly Pathogens (U.S. Institute of Peace, 2003), War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda (Pantheon, 2006), and edited volumes including Germany in Transition: A Unified Nation's Search for Identity (Westview Press, 1999), and Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (MIT Press, 2000) He also authored numerous articles including many published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Jonathan loved to hike and spend time outdoors while enjoying an urban lifestyle. He was one of the most even-tempered folks I have known and a genuinely lovely person. What was most impressive about his shortened life is the impact he had on public discussions of biosecurity. Jonathan displayed wisdom and sanity in a field prone to exaggeration and illusion. We will miss his wise counsel and warm smile.

Allison Macfarlane, Chair
Science and Security Board