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John Harvard's Journal

Elliot Hammerman


When Elliot Hammerman applied in 1986 for the job as machinist at the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory, he had to undergo five interviews on separate occasions. He began to be fed up with the process. During his fifth interview, one of his scientific interrogators asked him, "Now, Mr. Hammerman, how many degrees did you say you have?" "Would you like that in Fahrenheit or centigrade?" Hammerman replied. He got the job. The cyclotron nowadays is used mostly to treat inoperable cancers, usually of the brain or eye. In 1995 the facility gave 3400 treatments to 339 people. Hammerman makes the brass and plastic attachments—one of each for every angle of attack—that focus the cyclotron's proton beam precisely on the targeted tissue. He holds one of these devices in the photograph above. "He has a lot of interaction with patients," says a colleague, "and is a goodwill ambassador around here. He gets cards and letters from former patients all over the world." Another ongoing goodwill effort of Hammerman's is collecting redeemable bottles and cans. These pile up in bags in an alley behind the lab until he redeems them and gives the money to the Jimmy Fund; he raises about $1,000 a year. For recreation Hammerman plays competitive darts. He used to be a commercial lobsterman and before that a machinist at General Electric. Today he lives on a 40-foot trawler in Boston harbor with an amiable black-and-white dog named Wig.