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Ernest O. Lawrence

Physicist

Born: 8 August 1901
Died: 27 August 1958
Birthplace: Canton, South Dakota
Best known as: Nobel Prize-winning inventor of the cyclotron
American physicist Ernest Orlando Lawrence was the father of "big science" -- the collaborative, big-scale (and spendy) projects that led to the discovery of so many subatomic particles in the 1950s and '60s. Lawrence went to college in South Dakota and Minnesota before getting his doctorate in physics from Yale in 1925. He taught at Yale until the University of California at Berkeley lured him away in 1928. At Berkeley he invented the cyclotron, a revolutionary particle accelerator built to blast atoms (building on work done by Ernest Rutherford). Bigger and more powerful cyclotrons were developed throughout the 1930s at his newly-established Radiation Laboratory, and in 1939 Lawrence was awarded the Nobel Prize. During World War II he worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee on the development of the atomic bomb, and in the early 1950s he joined Edward Teller in promoting the hydrogen bomb. (Together they got a new weapons lab established, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.) Lawrence was sent by President Dwight Eisenhower to Geneva in 1958 to participate in nuclear test ban negotiations with the Soviet Union, but Lawrence took ill and had to be rushed back to California, where he died. It is generally agreed that most modern advances in nuclear physics could not have happened without Lawrence's cyclotron.
Extra credit: The chemical element lawrencium, discovered in 1961, is named in his honor... Lawrence was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award by the U.S. government in 1957.

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