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Ernest O. Lawrence

PhysicistUniversity of California, Berkeley

Los Alamos, NM
Manhattan Project VeteranNobel Prize WinnerScientistTrinity Test Eyewitness
Ernest Lawrence tinkering with his cyclotron

Ernest O. Lawrence (1901-1958) was an American scientist and 1939 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the cyclotron. 

Lawrence held many different positions during the Manhattan Project. He recruited staff for the MIT Radiation Laboratory and underwater sound laboratories to develop techniques to detect German submarines. Lawrence’s cyclotrons at Berkeley were used by other Manhattan Project scientists to discover new elements that could undergo nuclear fission, and he converted another cyclotron for the purpose of uranium enrichment. Lawrence’s cyclotron was also the source of radioactive isotopes used by his brother John Lawrence in his pioneering studies in nuclear medicine. Lawrence was also instrumental in the appointment of Oppenheimer as leader of the Los Alamos Laboratory. He also developed the electromagnetic isotope separation process, which was used at Oak Ridge in the Y-12 Plant. On July 16, 1945 Lawrence observed the Trinity Test.

After the war, Lawrence returned to University of California, Berkeley. He also joined the Atomic Energy Commission and became a proponent of increased government funding and research. After the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon in 1949, Lawrence advocated for the creation of the hydrogen bomb.


Contribution to Nuclear Physics

Lawrence’s most important scientific contribution was his development of the cyclotron, which proved instrumental in the production on fissionable isotopes and success of the Manhattan Project. In 1939, Lawrence was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention. For more information on his scientific research and achievements, visit the Nobel Prize website.

Ernest O. Lawrence's Timeline
1901 Aug 8th Born in Canton, South Dakota.
1922 Received B.A. in Chemistry from the University of South Dakota.
1923 Received M.A. in Physics from the University of Minnesota.
1925 Received Ph.D. in Physics from Yale University.
1929 Invented the cyclotron.
1939 Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention and development of the cyclotron.
19431946 Developed and supervised the electromagnetic isotope separation process at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley and at Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the Manhattan Project.
1957 Received the Enrico Fermi Award from the Atomic Energy Commission.
1958 Aug 27th Died in Palo Alto, California.

Ernest Lawrence, Enrico Fermi, and I. I. Rabi

Ernest O. Lawrence

Blackboard at Berkeley announcing that Ernest Lawrence had won the Nobel Prize in Physics

M. Stanley Livingston, Ernest Lawrence, and the Berkeley cyclotron

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