Lawrence, Ernest Orlando

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Lawrence, Ernest Orlando,

1901–58, American physicist, b. Canton, S. Dak., grad. Univ. of South Dakota, 1922, Ph.D. Yale, 1925. Affiliated with the Univ. of California from 1928 onward, he became a professor in 1930 and director of its radiation laboratory in 1936. For his invention (1930) and development of the cyclotron (see particle acceleratorparticle accelerator,
apparatus used in nuclear physics to produce beams of energetic charged particles and to direct them against various targets. Such machines, popularly called atom smashers, are needed to observe objects as small as the atomic nucleus in studies of its
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) and his researches in atomic structure and transmutation he received the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics. With the cyclotron he produced artificially radioactive elements and neutrons useful in nuclear, chemical, and biological research.


See G. Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb (2002); M. Hiltzik, Big Science (2015).

Lawrence, Ernest Orlando


Born Aug. 8, 1901, in Canton, S.Dak.; died Aug. 27, 1958, in Palo Alto, Calif. American physicist.

Lawrence studied at the universities of South Dakota, Minnesota, and Chicago and at Yale University. Beginning in 1928 he worked at the University of California (as a professor from 1930), becoming director of the university’s Radiation Laboratory in 1936.

In 1930, Lawrence proposed the idea of the cyclotron and later constructed the first model with the American scientist N. Edlefsen. In subsequent years he supervised the construction of a number of accelerators in the United States. Lawrence studied nuclear reactions and artificial radioactivity. In 1933 he produced deuterons and studied the reactions induced by them. He also participated in the development of the atomic bomb and worked on problems of radiobiology and radiation therapy. A winner of a Nobel Prize (1939), he was a foreign member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1942).


“On the Production of High Speed Protons.” Science, 1930, vol. 72, no. 1867, pp. 376-77. (With N. E. Edlefsen.)
“The Production of High Speed Light Ions Without the Use of High Voltages.” Physical Review, 1932, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 19-35. (With M. S. Livingston.)


Seaborg, G. T. “E. O. Lawrence—Physicist, Engineer, Statesman of Science.” Science, 1958, vol. 128, no. 3332, pp. 1123-124.
Childs, H. An American Genius: The Life of Ernest Orlando Lawrence. New York, 1968.
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