Ernest O. Lawrence

  • From:

    University of California, Berkeley │ Berkeley, California

  • Year:

    1937

  • Subject:

    Engineering Awards

  • Award:

    Cresson

  • Citation:

    For the development of the cyclotron.

Ernest O. Lawrence is the inventor of the cyclotron, an "atom smasher." Born in Canton, South Dakota, in 1901, Lawrence studied chemistry at University of South Dakota as an undergraduate, and then attended Yale University to obtain his Ph.D. in physics in 1925.

From 1925 to 1927, Lawrence researched the photo-electric effect at Yale, supported by a National Research Council Fellowship. In 1927, he was hired as an assistant professor on the Yale faculty. In 1928, Lawrence was offered a position as an associate professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley.

One evening in February 1929, Lawrence found an article by Norwegian physicist Rolf Wideroe, which detailed a theory for ion acceleration. After looking over one of the diagrams, Lawrence sketches out the basic cyclotron. The idea was to produce very high energy particles required for atomic disintegration by means of a succession of very small "pushes." 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 first cyclotron, a simple but functional model, was built and tested successfully in 1930. Lawrence 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.

Information as of 1937