Alvarez, Luis Walter


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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 chamberbubble chamber,
device for detecting charged particles and other radiation by means of tracks of bubbles left in a chamber filled with liquid hydrogen or other liquefied gas. It was invented in 1952 by Donald Glaser.
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 (see particle detectorparticle detector,
in physics, device for detecting, measuring, and analyzing particles and other forms of radiation entering it. Such devices play an important role not only in basic research, as in the study of elementary particles, but also in numerous applications of
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). He also helped develop the ground-control approach system for aircraft in the 1940s and played an important part in the Manhattan ProjectManhattan Project,
the wartime effort to design and build the first nuclear weapons (atomic bombs). With the discovery of fission in 1939, it became clear to scientists that certain radioactive materials could be used to make a bomb of unprecented power. U.S.
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, 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 extinctionmass extinction,
the extinction of a large percentage of the earth's species, opening ecological niches for other species to fill. There have been at least ten such events.
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 of the dinosaursdinosaur
[Gr., = terrible lizard], extinct land reptile of the Mesozoic era. The dinosaurs, which were egg-laying animals, ranged in length from 2 1-2 ft (91 cm) to about 127 ft (39 m).
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