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Renowned Inventor-Scientist’s Legacy Comes to UC


Charles Barton, Jr. (left) and David Barton (Right) present a check for $51,632 to UC Director of Alumni Services, David Bergman.

WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. – After his passing on January 31, 2009, Charles Barton left behind a legacy long to be remembered. University of the Cumberlands has recently received a bequest from the late Barton to support alumni recommended scholarships. Barton’s sons, Charles Barton, Jr., of Dallas, TX, and David Barton, of Greenville, TX, traveled to Williamsburg to present their father’s gift in the amount of $51,632 to the University. They expressed their appreciation for their father and for the University where their father had first attended college.

Hailing from the Jellico Community, Charles Barton attended Jellico High School, and during his junior year he made the startling discovery that he had already acquired full credit to receive his high school diploma. Unable to attain his diploma with three years of high school, he dropped out without graduating. He then attended Cumberland College, for a year in 1929-30. His older sister, Myrtle Nicholson (Mrs. G.O. Nicholson), a secretary working at Cumberland, encouraged him to attend there.

Barton went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in 1933 and a master’s degree in 1934 from the University of Tennessee. Afterwards, Barton received his PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Virginia in 1939. He later found his calling at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) where he specialized as a reactor chemist until his retirement in 1977.

He was a renowned inventor and patent holder; his contributions in developing the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) led to a ‘step’ in developing nuclear reactors for submarines and aircraft carriers. His first major invention was the construction of a photo spectrometer as part of his PhD project. Building the spectrometer from scratch, Barton perfected every minute detail in his project, even going as far as learning to grind glass to form the lenses needed for his machine.

Barton often liked to joke that he had a PhD but had never graduated from high school.

Located in Williamsburg, Ky., University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction, which currently offers four undergraduate degrees in 37 major fields of study; 30 minors; nine pre-professional programs; graduate degrees, including a doctorate and certifications in education; an MBA; and online programs.