Alvarez, Luis W.

Alvarez, Luis W. (Walter)

(1911–88) physicist; born in San Francisco. He spent his career at the University of California: Berkeley (1936–78). He discovered radioactive decay by orbital-electron capture (1938), and described the magnetic properties of the neutron (1939). During World War II he designed aircraft navigational systems and worked on the Manhattan Project. In 1947 he built the first proton linear accelerator. His modification of the bubble chamber to discover new subatomic particles won him the 1968 Nobel Prize for physics. With his geologist son, Walter Alvarez, he proposed the still-controversial theory that the mass extinction of dinosaurs was due to an asteroid or comet striking the earth (1979). Luis Alvarez's many inventions demonstrate ingenious applications of physics to other scientific areas.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.