Luis Walter Alvarez

Luis Walter Alvarez

Infobox Scientist
name = Luis W. Alvarez

imagesize = 160px
birth_name = Luis Walter Alvarez
birth_date = birth date|1911|6|13|mf=y
birth_place = San Francisco, California, USA
death_date = death date and age|1988|9|1|1911|1|13
death_place =
field = Physics
alma_mater = University of Chicago
doctoral_students =
work_institution = University of California, Berkeley
known_for =
prizes = nowrap|Nobel Prize in Physics (1968)

Luis W. Alvarez (June 13, 1911, San Francisco, California – September 1, 1988) was an American physicist and inventor, who spent nearly all of his long professional career on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1968.


The Alvarez family was of Spanish American descent. Luis W. was the son of Walter C. Alvarez, a doctor who for a time was a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, and Harriet Smythe, and a grandson of Luis F. Alvarez, a doctor in Hawaii who found a better method for diagnosing macular leprosy. His aunt, Mabel Alvarez, was a California artist specializing in oil painting. Luis W. had two children by each of his two spouses. One son, Walter Alvarez, is a professor of geology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Alvarez was educated at the University of Chicago, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1932, his master's degree in 1934, and his PhD in 1936.

He won the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physics for "the discovery of a large number of resonance states, made possible through his development of the technique of using hydrogen bubble chamber and data analysis." This research allowed scientists to record and study the short lived particles created in particle accelerators. In 1987, the USA Department of Energy granted him its Enrico Fermi award.

Alvarez proposed a jet-recoil theory for the Kennedy assassination to explain why John F. Kennedy's head jerked backwards even if the President was shot from behind, which would have been the case if Lee Harvey Oswald were the assassin.

War technology

During World War II, Alvarez's work on military technology was of the highest importance. He was a key participant in the Manhattan Project, including Project Alberta, the actual dropping of the atom bomb. He was on board The Great Artiste, the observation plane for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as a scientific observer.

Alvarez and his student Lawrence Johnston designed the exploding-bridgewire detonators for the spherical implosives used on the Trinity and Nagasaki bombs [] . He also did important work on radar and navigation technologies. In 1945, he received the Collier Trophy, the highest American government honor in aviation, for developing the Ground Controlled Approach system (GCA), which allows airplanes to land when visibility is poor.

After the war, he invented the synchrotron. Over his entire lifetime, he was granted more than 40 patents, a few which proved commercially viable. In 1978, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Work on dinosaur extinction

In 1980, Alvarez and his son, Walter, presented the asteroid-impact theory as an explanation for the presence of an unusual abundance of iridium associated with the geological event referred to as the K-T extinction boundary. Ten years after this initial proposal, evidence of a huge impact crater called Chicxulub off the coast of Mexico strongly confirmed their theory. An impact by an extraterrestrial body is now the accepted explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs.


*Alvarez, Luis W., 1987. "Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist", New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0465001157


* [ "Berkeley Proton Linear Accelerator,"] Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley (Oct. 13, 1953).

* [ "High-energy Physics with Hydrogen Bubble Chambers,] " Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley (Mar. 7, 1958).

* [ “LRL 25-inch Bubble Chamber,] " Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley (July 8, 1964).

* [ “Early Days of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry,] " Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (May 1981).

* [ “The Hydrogen Bubble Chamber and the Strange Resonances,] " Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (June 1985).

* [ “History of Proton Linear Accelerators,] " Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (Jan. 1987).

External links

* [ Nobel biography]
* [ About Luis Alvarez]
* [ IEEE interview with Johnston, patentholder of the exploding-bridgewire detonator]
* [,+Luis Annotated bibliography for Luis Alvarez from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues]
* Garwin, Richard L., 1992, " [ Memorial Tribute For Luis W. Alvarez] " in "Memorial Tributes, National Academy of Engineering, Vol. 5". Washington DC: National Academy Press.
* [ Biography and Bibliographic Resources] , from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy

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Look at other dictionaries:

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