Fowler, William A.

Alternative names
Birth 1911-08-09
Death 1995-03-14

Biographical notes:

Fowler died in 1995.

From the description of Phyphty years of phun and physics in the W. K. Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at Caltech, by Willy Phowler, 1982. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82576561

(William A. Fowler 1911-1995). Physicist (nuclear physics, astrophysics). On the physics faculty at California Institute of Technology (1939-1982); received the Nobel Prize in Physics with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekher in 1983 for his "theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe."

From the description of Papers, 1917-1995. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78440445

Physicist (nuclear physics, astrophysics). Died 1995.

From the description of Oral history interview with William Alfred Fowler, 1972 June 8, 1973 Feb. 5, 1974 May 30. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154306382

Physicist (nuclear physics, astrophysics). On physics faculty at California Institute of Technology, 1939-1982; received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983. Died in 1995.

From the description of Papers, 1929-1972. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78961643


Physicist William A. Fowler received the Nobel Prize in Physics with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in 1983 for his "theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe." For most of his scientific career, he was the acknowledged leader of the discipline of nuclear astrophysics and the driving force behind the theory of nucleosynthesis that the elements and their isotopes were generated in stellar furnaces.

Fowler was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 9, 1911, and grew up in Lima, Ohio. He graduated in engineering physics from Ohio State University in 1933, then moved to the California Institute of Technology, where he began his graduate studies under the supervision of Charles C. Lauritsen at Caltech's Kellogg Radiation Laboratory. He received his PhD in 1936 for his thesis on radioactive elements of low atomic number. Fowler spent his entire scientific career at Caltech, where in 1970 he was named the first Institute Professor of Physics, a position he held until his retirement in 1982.

Early nuclear studies at the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory established the basis for quantitative determinations of reaction rates of interest in stellar processes. In the late 1930s reactions in the C-N (carbon-nitrogen) cycle were being studied at Kellogg, but World War II intervened, and the laboratory staff was engaged in defense research throughout the war. Fowler and his colleagues worked on a variety of defense projects, first on the invention of the proximity fuze for anti-aircraft rockets, and later on the development of rocket ordnance for the US navy. For that work, he received the Medal of Merit in 1948. After the war Fowler and his colleagues at Kellogg returned to the field of low-energy light-element nuclear physics, aiming a major fraction of their research at nuclear reactions in stars. Fowler continued his defense work after the war, dealing with the study of strategic nuclear weapons as the scientific director of Project Vista.

Fowler's interest in nuclear astrophysics was stimulated by Fred Hoyle's visit to Caltech in the 1950s. Fowler spent his sabbatical year of 1954-55 at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, England, where he started a collaboration with Fred Hoyle and with Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, which culminated in their 1957 seminal paper, "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars." Subsequently, Fowler and Hoyle studied the nuclear processes of supernovae and extended their research to dating the synthesis of chemical elements from the abundance of their isotopes—a field of research which later became known as nuclear chronology.

In 1967, Fowler, Hoyle, and Robert B. Wagoner produced a comprehensive study regarding the dynamics of expansion of the universe and the resulting nucleosynthesis, known as Big Bang nucleosynthesis. That same year, Fowler's collaboration with Georgeanne Caughlan and Barbara Zimmerman led to the publication of the first of a series of reviews evaluating experimental nuclear reaction rates. This series of reviews continued with a variety of co-authors until 1988 and provided a foundation for the study of stellar evolution and nucleosynthesis.

Throughout his scientific career, Fowler was also very active in a variety of societies and professional organizations. He served terms as an officer and then as president of the American Physical Society (1976) and was a member of the Governing Board and Executive Committee of the American Institute of Physics (1974-1980). He also served on the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation (1968-1974), the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences (1970-1973, 1977-1980), and as member and then chairman of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NUSAC) of the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy (1977-1981).

Fowler received many honors in addition to the Nobel Prize. These included the Vetlesen Prize (1973), the National Medal of Science awarded by President Gerald Ford in 1974, the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1978), the Bruce Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1979), and the Legion of Honor awarded by President François Mitterand in 1989.

Fowler continued his scientific research and his lecturing activities until his death due to kidney failure on March 14, 1995.

From the guide to the William A. Fowler papers, 1917-1994, (California Institute of Technology. Archives.)


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