Luis W. Alvarez

alvarez headshot
Born in San Francisco, Luis W. Alvarez (1911-1988) became an experimental physicist after receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1936 under Arthur Compton. He joined Ernest Lawrence’s Radiation Laboratory at UC-Berkeley in 1936. There, he devised experiments to observe K-electron capture in radioactive nuclei, used the cyclotron to produce tritium and measure its lifetime, and measured the magnetic moment of the neutron. He taught physics at UC-Berkeley where he became Emeritus Professor of Physics.

While working at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory in 1940-43, Alvarez developed what is now the ground-controlled approach (GCA) system for aircraft. He also worked at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago in 1943-44, and at Los Alamos on the Manhattan project in 1944-45. Alvarez won the Nobel prize in 1968 for his work developing liquid hydrogen bubble chambers that allowed scientists to take millions of photographs of particle interactions, to develop complex computer systems to measure and analyze these interactions, and to discover entire families of new particles.

Alvarez was involved in a project to “X-ray” Egyptian pyramids to search for unknown chambers. With his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, he developed the Alvarez hypothesis, which proposes that an asteroid impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

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