Luis Walter Alvarez


Luis Alvarez, named after his Spanish grandfather, was born on June 13, 1911, in San Francisco, California. From the time he was a young boy, Luis showed a love for tools, machines and technology. At age 11, after seeing a magazine article about building a radio (which at the time was a new invention), Luis with his father’s help built his own.

At 18 years old Luis studied chemistry and math at the University of Chicago. Wanting to excel in his field, he chose physics, the subject he loved the most. Doing experiments was his favorite thing, and he invented new ways to measure, observe and test the physical laws of nature. He built machines as well. One of his firsts was called a Geiger Counter (invented by Hans Geiger) which measures radiation. In 1932, he received his Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Chicago. In 1934, he then received his Master of Science Degree. Lastly, he received his Ph.D. in 1936. In the same year, he joined the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California where he is currently a professor.

Alvarez met Ernest Lawrence, one of the world's leading nuclear scientists, who invited him to work in his Radiation Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. Alvarez's job was to help run the cyclotron, a machine that studies atoms. Alvarez helped make many new important discoveries about atoms.

In 1940, as a result of World War II, Alvarez and a group of scientists built a radar system to help guide airplanes through 'fog or darkness. In this system, a radio signal bounces off a lost plane and back to the sender of the signal, who then guides the plane safely to the ground.

Next Alvarez worked on a secret project for the government. This project included the creation of a powerful, new weapon. This weapon, called the atom bomb, would give the first country able to build it the power to win the war. It was a tricky and dangerous job.

In July 1945, the atom bomb was ready. The government planned to drop the bomb on Japan. On August 6, 1945, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, destroying the entire city.

Alvarez was saddened by the thought of all the people who had lost their lives, and later wrote a letter to his son saying that he hoped the powerful and destructive atom bomb would inspire people to prevent future wars.

After, Alvarez returned to Berkeley where he worked once again at the Radiation Laboratory. Here he built a hydrogen bubble chamber, with which he discovered that atoms and other particles when travelling through liquid hydrogen leave a track of bubbles. Using bubble chambers Alvarez's team discovered many new atomic particles.

In 1968, Alvarez received the Nobel Prize. The Nobel description of his important work and discoveries in physics was the longest in the prize's history.

Some of Alvarez's most significant work took place later in his life, while working with his son, who is a geologist (a person who studies the earth and how it was formed). Alvarez was given a piece of layered rock from the mountains of Italy that contained a mystery about the history of the earth. Many significant ideas were formed through studying this layer of rock.

Throughout his career, he has received many distinguishing awards for his knowledge in physics. The Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautical Association handed him an award for the development of Ground Control Approach in 1946. Also, in 1947 he was awarded the Medal for Merit. In 1953 he then received an award for his Ground Control Approach in 1953 called the John Scott Medal and Prize. In 1960, for his research work on high-energy physics, he was named "California Scientist of the Year." In 1961 he received the Einstein Medal award for his contribution to the physical sciences. In 1963, he was then awarded the Pioneer Award on the AIEEE. In l964, for his contributions to high-energy physics, he received the National Medal of Science award. In 1965 he received the Michelson Award. The last awards he received were the Sc. D., University of Chicago, 1967; Sc. D., Carnegie-Mellon University, 1968; Nobel Prize for Physics in 1968.

Luis Walter Alvarez, one of the world's greatest nuclear scientists, died on August 31, 1988. Just a few months earlier, a newly discovered asteroid was named Alvarez in honor of his and Walter's work.




Alvarez, Luis W. Alvarez: The Adventures of a Physicist. (New York: Basic Book, ©1987)

Britannica Luis Walter Alvarez. (World Wide Web, ©1998)

Codye, Corinn. "Luis W. Alvarez." Milwaukee: Raintree Publishers, ©1990

New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, ©1987.

Towers, Peter Discovering Alvarez: Selected Works of Luis W. A. with commentary by his students and colleagues. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ©1987).

Yahoo.Com. 1968 Nobel Prize for Physics - Luis Alvarez. (World Wide Web)


Jacquelyn Keith

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To view a second student paper on Walter Alvarez


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