Luis Walter Alvarez

Portrait of Luis Alvarez

Luis Walter Alvarez (June 13, 1911 – September 1, 1988) of San Francisco, California, USA, was a famed physicist who worked at the University of California, Berkeley.

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

Alvarez 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". Specifically, his research made it possible to record and study the short lived particles created in particle accelerators.


Alvarez's ID badge photo from Los Alamos.

During World War II, Alvarez was a key participant in the Manhattan Project and in war projects in general. Alvarez and his student Lawrence Johnston designed the detonators for the spherical implosives used on the Trinity and Nagasaki bombs.[1] He additionally did important work relating to radar and aviation, and designed a system by which airplanes could land safely in low visibility conditions, useful both to bombers and commercial aviation. After the war he went on to invent the synchotron. He flew as a scientific observer at the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

With geologist son Walter, in 1980, Luis proposed the asteroid-impact theory to explain the iridium anomaly of the K-T extinction boundary. Ten years later, highly convincing evidence was presented showing that a huge impact crater called Chicxulub was, in fact, the "smoking gun" of the K-T boundary. This impact by an extraterrestrial body is now widely accepted as causing the extinction that killed the dinosaurs.

Alvarez also proposed a jet-recoil theory for the Kennedy assassination to explain why John F. Kennedy's head jerked backwards if Lee Harvey Oswald, shooting from behind the president, was the assassin.

In 1978, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Further reading

Alvarez, Luis W. Alvarez: Adventure of a Physicist, New York: Basic Books, 1987, ISBN 04650011

Links

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