Owen Chamberlain

Owen Chamberlain

Chamberlain, Owen, 1920-, American physicist, b. San Francisco, Calif., Ph.D. Univ. of Chicago, 1948. He was on the faculty at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, from 1949 until his retirement in 1989, when he was named professor emeritus. Chamberlain received the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physics with Emilio Segrè for producing and identifying the antiproton, a subatomic particle identical to the proton but with a negative electrical charge. Their 1955 finding set the stage for the discovery of many additional antiparticles, and antiprotons have since become an integral part of high-energy physics experiments.

Owen Chamberlain (July 10, 1920February 28, 2006) was an American physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his discovery, with collaborator Emilio Segrè, of antiprotons, a sub-atomic antiparticle.


Born in San Francisco, California Chamberlain graduated from Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia in 1937. He studied physics at Dartmouth College, where he was a member of Theta Chi Fraternity (Alpha Theta Fraternity today), and at the University of California, Berkeley. He remained in school until the start of World War II, and joined the Manhattan Project in 1942, where he worked with Segrè, both at Berkeley and in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He married Beatrice Babette Copper (d. 1988) in 1943, with whom he had four children.

In 1946, after the war, Chamberlain continued with his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago under legendary physicist Enrico Fermi. Fermi acted as an important guide and mentor for Chamberlain, encouraging him to leave behind the more prestigious theoretical physics for experimental physics, for which Chamberlain had a particular aptitude. Chamberlain officially received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1949.

In 1948, having completed his experimental work, Chamberlain returned to Berkeley as a member of its faculty, where he, Segrè, and other physicists investigated proton-proton scattering. In 1955, a series of proton scattering experiments led to the discovery of the anti-proton, a particle exactly like a proton except negatively charged. Chamberlain's later research work included the time projection chamber (TPC), and work at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC).

Chamberlain was also politically active on issues of peace and social justice, and outspoken against the Vietnam War. He was a member of Scientists for Sakharov, Orlov, and Shcharansky, three physicists of the former Soviet Union imprisoned for their political beliefs. In the 1980s, he helped found the nuclear freeze movement.

Chamberlain was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1985, and retired from teaching in 1989. He died of complications from the disease on February 28, 2006, in Berkeley at the age of 85.

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