Alvin Cushman Graves was born in Washington, District of Columbia on November 4, 1909 to Herbert Cornelious and Clara Anne Cora Walther Graves. His siblings were Lucy E., Henry W., Herbert C., Clara E., and Asenath L. His father, Herbert was a civil enginer.
1939-Alvin Cushman Graves (1909-1965) joined the department as an Instructor. He had received his PhD at the University of Chicago. In 1941, he was promoted to Assistant Professor. In 1942, he was invited to the University of Chicago to help build the world’s first atomic pile under the supervision of Enrico Fermi. He laid the first graphite brick at the famous squash court. He was present when Fermi determined that the reaction was self-sustaining. In 1943, Graves was invited to Los Alamos and in 1945, was in charge of J Division. He was present at the nuclear accident that killed Louis Slotin. Slotin, ignoring safety devices, was holding two hemispheres of plutonium with a screwdriver when it slipped. Graves was three feet away and received a whole-body dose of 400 roentgens. Slotin received 2000 and died nine days later. Graves suffered radiation burns and cataracts. He was temporarily sterile but fathered a child five years later. He continued to work and was a mainstay of the Los Alamos community, playing cello in the Los Alamos Symphony, elder of his church, chairman of the board of the local bank and a three-term member of the local school board. He died of a heart attack in 1965, while skiing in Colorado.
He was married to Elizabeth “Diz” Riddle, a University of Chicago PhD physicist. Elizabeth was forbidden to be employed in the physics department because of nepotism rules. Graves insisted that she be allowed to work at Los Alamos as a condition for his going there. She was a group leader at Los Alamos involved with neutron physics associated with bomb development.