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1. The Nobel Tradition

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eginning in 1939 with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physics to Ernest Lawrence (the first laureate in a public American University), seven members of the faculty have received the Nobel - a stunning achievement by any measure. Only Charles H. Townes received the prize while at another university (Columbia). The other six won their prizes largely on the basis of experiments on two machines they built at Berkeley: the particle accelerator and the bubble chamber.


Ernest O. Lawrence

Ernest O. Lawrence


1939 - For his invention and development of the cyclotron


The cyclotron was the first circular-shaped particle accelerator or “atom-smasher.” This circular design made possible the acceleration of particles to unprecedented energies before being smashed, thereby opening the door to modern experimental physics.


Edwin M. McMillan

Edwin M. McMillan


1951 - (With Glenn Seaborg) for their discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements


In 1879, uranium, element 92, named after the planet Uranus, had been declared the upper limit of the periodic table. Sifting through the debris of nuclear fission, McMillan and Philip H. Abelson found element 93 in 1940 and named it neptunium after the next planet, Neptune. Their discoveries proved that elements existed beyond uranium on the periodic table.


Owen Chamberlain

Owen Chamberlain


1959 - (With Emilio Segrè) for their discovery of the antiproton


In 1952, using the Bevatron accelator and an elaborate network of detectors, Chamberlain, Segré, and colleagues Clyde Wiegand and Thomas Ypsilantis smashed atoms of copper with highly energized protons. This brought into fleeting existance the negatively-charged protons that confirmed antimatter theories.


Emilio Segrè

Emilio Segrè


1959 - (With Owen Chamberlain) for their discovery of the antiproton


The existance of antimatter or “mirror matter” was theorized in 1930. Two years later, the positron, an electron with a positive charge was found, but until a proton with a negative charge could be identified, antimatter could not be confirmed. Segrè was an expert on nuclear forces and the discoverer of technetium, the first artificially-produced chemical element.


Donald A. Glaser

Donald A. Glaser


1960 - For his invention of the bubble chamber


Bubble chambers gave scientists their first means of studying the swarm of fast-moving, short-lived nuclear particles that emerge from accelerator collisions. Sending such particles through a chamber filled with superheated liquid leaves signature “tracks” of bubbles that can be photographed and analyzed.


Charles H. Townes

Charles H. Townes


1964 - For inventing the maser and concepts that led to the creation of the laser


An acronym for “microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Using a weak microwave beam, a maser produces “a cascade of transitions in ammonia molecules,” which reinforces the beam. It was the forerunner of the laser, “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” These devices spawned a new industry and advances in medical treatment.


Luis W. Alvarez

Luis W. Alvarez


1968 - For his decisive contributions to
elementary particle physics


Alvarez’s identification of resonance state—ephemeral states of matter that flare up within the nuclei of atoms—unleashed a stampede of sub-atomic particle findings and laid the groundwork for the discovery of quarks.