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Inventors Ernest Lawrence - Cyclotron
born Aug. 8, 1901 , Canton, South Dakota

died Aug. 27, 1958 , Palo Alto, California

Ernest Lawrence (left)Ernest Lawrence, was an American physicist and Nobel laureate, best known for his invention and development of the cyclotron, a device to accelerate nuclear particles and used in the discovery of the transuranium elements. The cyclotron, led to the development of particle physics and revolutionary discoveries about the nature of the universe. Ernest Lawrence was born in Canton, South Dakota and educated at the universities of South Dakota, Minnesota, and Chicago and at Yale University. Lawrence founded the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, the oldest of the national laboratories, in 1931. He was awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics and the Enrico Fermi Award in 1957. Photo

The invention that would rocket Ernest Lawrence to international fame started out modestly as a sketch on a scrap of paper. While sitting in the library one evening, Lawrence happened to glance over a journal article and was intrigued by one of the diagrams. The idea was to produce very high energy particles required for atomic disintegration by means of a succession of very small "pushes." Ernest Lawrence told his colleagues that he had found a method for obtaining particles of very high energy, without the use of any high voltage. The idea was surprisingly simple, but Lawrence double-checked his theory with physicists from Yale to make sure he had not overlooked a critical detail.

The first model of Lawrence's cyclotron was made out of wire and sealing wax and probably cost $25 in all. And it worked - when Lawrence applied 2,000 volts of electricity to his make-shift cyclotron, he got 80,000-volt projectiles spinning around. He had discovered a way to "smash" atoms, and in doing so he unwittingly paved the way for the U.S. nuclear weapons program that was to follow a decade later.

Ernest Lawrence and Enrico Fermi
Ernest Lawrence and Enrico Fermi seemed to live parallel lives. They were born only a month apart, though an ocean away - Ernest Lawrence in South Dakota and Enrico Fermi in Rome, Italy. Both Lawrence and Fermi became interested in physics at an early age; both won Nobel Prizes only a year apart for work related to the discovery of radioactive elements; both contributed significantly as leaders in winning the science war during World War II; and sadly, both died premature deaths—Fermi was only 54 years old and Lawrence was 57.

But this was not the end of their similarities. Prestigious science awards were established as memorials for both Fermi and Lawrence by President Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission, now the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Fermi Award is for lifetime achievements of internationally recognized scientists; the Lawrence Award recognizes relatively recent achievements and excellence in nuclear science and technology, and, as Lawrence did, it also encourages and supports the careers of scientists and engineers who show exceptional promise for the future.

Ernest Lawrence was the second-ever recipient of the Enrico Fermi Award in 1957, just a year before his death, and Lawrence's own memorial award was established a year after his death in 1959.

Ernest  Lawrence - Cyclotron
Ernest  Lawrence invented the cyclotron, a device that greatly increased the speed with which projectiles could be hurled at atomic nuclei - National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Ernest Lawrence Physicist, Engineer, Statesman of Science
His cyclotron was to nuclear science what Galileo's telescope was to astronomy. Longer biography.

Ernest Lawrence - Timeline
American physicist, winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention of the cyclotron, the first particle accelerator to achieve high energies.

Ernest Orlando Lawrence (1901-1958)
Besides the Cyclotron, Ernest Orlando Lawrence pioneered the use of radiation to combat cancer (he successfully treated hyperthyroid), and paved the way for the isolation of Uranium-235 (which allowed the U.S. to create the atomic bomb).

More About The Cyclotron
Particle Accelerators
The motivation for most of the development of the various types of particle accelerators has been their application to research into the properties of atomic nuclei and subatomic particles.

Definition of a Cyclotron
A cyclotron is any of a class of devices that accelerates charged atomic or subatomic particles in a constant magnetic field. The first particle accelerator of  this type was developed in the early 1930s by the American physicists Ernest O. Lawrence and M. Stanley Livingston. For many years the highest particle energies were those imparted by cyclotrons modeled upon Lawrence's archetype. - britannica

Related Information
Nuclear Innovations

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partial information provided by Lawrence Berkeley Lab and the U.S. Department of Science

©Mary Bellis

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