Alvarez, Luis Walter

Alvarez, Luis Walter

Alvarez, Luis Walter, 1911-88, American physicist, b. San Francisco, grad. Univ. of Chicago, 1932, Ph.D. 1936. He was awarded the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of a large number of residence states (subatomic particles that have very short lifetimes and that occur only in high-energy nuclear collisions), which was made possible through his development of the liquid-hydrogen bubble chamber (see particle detector). He also helped develop the ground-control approach system for aircraft in the 1940s and played an important part in the Manhattan Project, where he suggested the technique for detonating the implosion type of atomic bomb. A member of the National Inventor's Hall of Fame, Alvarez held the patents for more than 30 inventions, including three types of radar systems. His autobiography, Alvarez: Adventures of a Physicist, was published in 1987. He; his son, the geologist Walter Alvarez, 1940-, b. Berkeley, Calif.; and others proposed that unusually high levels of iridium at the boundary between Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks indicated a major meteor impact with the earth about 65 million years ago and that this might be the cause of the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Luis Alvarez

(born June 13, 1911, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.—died Sept. 1, 1988, Berkeley, Calif.) U.S. experimental physicist. He joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley in 1936, where he would remain until 1978. In 1938 he discovered that some radioactive elements decay when an orbital electron merges with the atom's nucleus, producing an element with an atomic number smaller by one, a form of beta decay. In 1939 he and Felix Bloch (1905–83) made the first measurement of the magnetic moment of the neutron. During World War II he developed a radar guidance system for landing aircraft and participated in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. He later helped construct the first proton linear accelerator and constructed the liquid hydrogen bubble chamber. With his son, the geologist Walter Alvarez (b. 1940), he helped develop the theory that links the dinosaurs' extinction with a giant asteroid or comet impact. For work that included the discovery of many subatomic particles, he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1968.

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