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 Ernest Orlando Lawrence

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Ernest Orlando Lawrence

Birth
Canton, Lincoln County, South Dakota, USA
Death 27 Aug 1958 (aged 57)
Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, USA
Burial Oakland, Alameda County, California, USA
Plot Garden of Remembrance, South Wall, Tier 5, Niche 3
Memorial ID 2218 View Source
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Nobel Prize Recipient. Ernest Orlando Lawrence, an American physicist, received international notoriety after being awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize for Physics for, according to the Nobel Prize committee, "the invention and development of the cyclotron and for results obtained with it, especially with regard to artificial radioactive elements." Within a year’s time, he received 17 nominations for the Nobel candidacy. In 1929 he developed a piece of equipment known as a “cyclotron,” which was used for electrical and magnetic fields to accelerate protons to high velocities in a spiral-shaped path before they collide with their target. In layman’s term, this piece of equipment was an atom smasher. With the use of the cyclotron, hundreds of radioactive isotopes of the known elements were also discovered. Born the son of Norwegian immigrants, his father was the Superintendent of Schools of the local public school system. After graduating from high school, he started at Olaf College before transferring in 1919 to the University of South Dakota, receiving his B.A. in Chemistry in 1922. He worked his way through college, paying as he went. The following year he received his Master in Arts from the University of Minnesota. Expanding his knowledge in physics, he spent a year at the University of Chicago before being awarded his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1925 as a Sloane Fellow. His thesis was addressing the photoelectric effect on potassium vapors. In the eyes of other students and some professors, his education at Yale did not compensate for his humble South Dakota immigrant background. Refusing offers to other universities with a higher salary, he continued at Yale for a further three years, the first two as a National Research Fellow and then in the third year, earning some prestigious career status as Assistant Professor of Physics at Yale University. In 1928 he was appointed Associate Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and two years later he became Professor, being the youngest professor at Berkeley. To continue his research, Lawrence built the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley in 1931, was made its director, staying until his death. He made technetium; the first element that does not occur in nature to be made artificially. In honor of him, element 103, Lawrencium, was named. His equipment was used to treat hyperthyroidism. In addition, he instituted the use of neutron beams in treating cancer. He invented and patented a color-television picture tube. He collaborated with his younger brother, Dr. John Lawrence, who became Director of the University of California Medical Physics Laboratory, in nuclear medicine in studying medical and biological applications of the cyclotron, and his brother became a consultant to the Institute of Cancer Research at Columbia University in New York City. By 1941, he had built a larger cyclotron with donated funds from the Rockefeller Foundation. He sold the cyclotron patent to the United States for a dollar. During World War II, he was part of the Manhattan Project as a program chief assigned in the development of the electromagnetic process of separating uranium-235 needed for the atomic bomb. Besides the 1939 Nobel Prize, he was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award from the United States Atomic Energy Commission, the Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute, the Comstock Prize of the National Academy of Sciences, the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society, the Duddell Medal of the Royal Physical Society, and the Faraday Medal. He received the first Sylvanus Thayer Award from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was decorated with the United States Medal for Merit and was an Officer of the Legion of Honor. He received honorary doctorate degrees from 13 universities and was a member of numerous scientific societies. A prolific author, he wrote 56 papers, which was published in “The Physical Review” and the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” In 1932 he married Molly a Vassar graduate, who was the daughter of a former Dean of Yale Medical School, and the couple had six children. Molly’s brother-in-law, Edwin M. McMillan, was awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Lawrence suffered from chronic ulcerative colitis. At the request of United States President Eisenhower, he was a member of the United States delegation at the 1958 Geneva Conference, addressing the subject of no further atomic bomb testing. While at the conference , he became ill. Upon his return to California at Stanford University, he had a colon resection, removing most of his large intestines. He did not recuperate easily as if was found that he had severe atherosclerosis and died after surgery. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at Livermore, California were named in honor of him after his death. His widow petitioned the University of California Board of Regents to have her husband’s name removed from the Livermore facility as the facility’s focus was on nuclear weapons, which Lawrence helped to build; her petition was refused each time. Since 1949 the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award is bestowed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy to mid-career scientists and engineers in recognition of exceptional scientific, technical, or engineering achievements related to the broad missions of the U.S. Department of Energy and its programs; besides the gold-plated medal with Lawrence’s image, the award gives $20,000.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 2218
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/2218/ernest-orlando-lawrence : accessed ), memorial page for Ernest Orlando Lawrence (8 Aug 1901–27 Aug 1958), Find a Grave Memorial ID 2218, citing Chapel of Memories Columbarium, Oakland, Alameda County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .