Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 1901-1958

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Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Nobel prizewinning physicist, inventor of the cyclotron and the founder and first director of the University of California Radiation Laboratory, was born on August 8, 1901 in Canton, South Dakota. His parents Carl Gustavus and Gunda Jacobson Lawrence were the children of Norwegian immigrants. Ernest Lawrence attended St. Olaf College and later the University of South Dakota, where he received his A.B. degree in 1922. He had originally thought to become a medical doctor, but was influenced to switch to a career in physics while attending the University.

From the description of Ernest O. Lawrence papers, circa 1920-1968. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 122515011

Biography

Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Nobel prizewinning physicist, inventor of the cyclotron and the founder and first director of the University of California Radiation Laboratory, was born on August 8, 1901 in Canton, South Dakota. His parents Carl Gustavus and Gunda Jacobson Lawrence were the children of Norwegian immigrants. Ernest Lawrence attended St. Olaf College and later the University of South Dakota, where he received his A.B. degree in 1922. He had originally thought to become a medical doctor, but was influenced to switch to a career in physics while attending the University.

Following graduate work at the University of Minnesota and the University of Chicago, Lawrence accompanied his research advisor, Professor W. F. G. Swann, to Yale University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1925. Lawrence continued research in photoelectricity at Yale as a National Research Fellow and an assistant professor. He gained an important reputation in this field through his measurements of the ionization potential of the mercury atom and the time lapse between radiation striking a metal surface and the first appearance of electrons (with Jesse W. Beams). Several universities sought Lawrence for their faculties. He accepted an offer to join the University of California faculty in 1928, and two years later he was the youngest full professor on the Berkeley faculty.

He was soon caught up in the quest for a way to accelerate particles to high energies and thus expand the research into the atomic nucleus begun by Ernest Rutherford's bombardment of light elements using the alpha particles from radium. In September, 1930, he made the first public announcement of the new method at the meeting of the National Academy of Sciences held in Berkeley and demonstrated a tiny model cyclotron. From the days of that first model, Lawrence followed a pattern of building bigger and more sophisticated machines. In 1939, he received the Nobel Prize for his remarkable invention.

The first cyclotrons of any size were the 11" (1930) and the 27" (1934), later expanded to 37" (1937). They were used to confirm the existence of artificially induced radioactivity, the disintegration of light ions, and to produce large amounts of neutrons for the study of radio isotopes. Next came the 60" medical cyclotron (1939), which was used in the work of Lawrence's brother, Dr. John H. Lawrence, on the effects of neutron therapy on cancer and the production of radioisotopes for medical use. Then followed the 184", which in its final form in 1946 included the synchrotron design of Edwin M. McMillan, and, in 1954, the Bevatron, based on a design of William Brobeck.

Along with these advances in cyclotron technology came a phenomenal growth in what was called the Radiation Laboratory. By 1936, it was a combination of some office space in, and an old wooden building behind, LeConte Hall, the physics building, but it soon expanded into many buildings. In 1940, before the tremendous growth during and after World War II, there was a separate medical cyclotron laboratory, called Crocker Radiation Laboratory, the construction of the Donner Biophysics Laboratory had begun, and money had been obtained to construct the 184" cyclotron in a setting off the main campus on Charter Hill. This growth was possible because Lawrence had proved to have a remarkable gift for getting financial support. He had complete faith in the need for his exploring ideas; his enthusiasm was infectious. He used the funds received to produce significant research results and so the cycle repeated.

During World War II, Lawrence worked closely first with the National Defense Research Committee on microwave research and submarine detection and then with the Office of Scientific Research and Development's Section S-1, subsequently the Manhattan Engineer District, on the magnetic separation method for isolating U 235. The magnet for the 184" cyclotron was converted into a giant mass spectrograph, Calutron, for research into the separation technique. Not only did Lawrence head the activities at the Berkeley laboratory, but he also attended many Washington meetings and gave advice concerning the development of the atomic bomb and suggestions for its use. In addition, Radiation Laboratory scientists worked on the development of prototype racetrack separators for the magnetic separation plant section of the Y-12 facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

After the war, the University of California Radiation Laboratory continued to be financed from Manhattan Engineer District funds. The Laboratory was even given support for projects outside of the District's specific province. With the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission, the support of the Laboratory was taken over by the Commission and increased. In 1952, at the AEC's request, Lawrence established a new laboratory at Livermore to do weapons and other applied research.

By this time, Lawrence seldom took part in the actual experiments carried on at the laboratories. However, he still took time out from busy administrative duties to visit various parts of the complex Laboratory, to talk with colleagues about their work and offer his help. Like many other scientists after the war who became national figures, Lawrence was called upon by the federal government to give his opinion on problems in weapons development and the dangers of radioactive fallout. An old interest in television inspired him to work on a color television tube in the early 1950's. This grid style picture tube, the Lawrence tube or Chromatron, was used in the portable color television sets of a Japanese company in the late 1960's.

Although he had been diagnosed early in 1952 as having chronic ulceritis and told to rest and relax more, Lawrence could not stay his fast pace for long. At President Eisenhower's request, and with only the hesitant approval of his doctor, Lawrence attended the 1958 Geneva conference on the suspension of nuclear testing. There he became acutely ill and had to return early to the United States. He died shortly afterward, on August 27, 1958, leaving behind Mary Blumer Lawrence, his wife of 26 years, and their six children.

From the guide to the Ernest O. Lawrence Papers, [ca. 1920-1968], (The Bancroft Library)

Archival Resources
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referencedIn Gofman, John W. Oral history interview with John W. Gofman, 1980 July 24 to 8 August. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Childs, Herbert, 1904-. Materials assembled for a biography of Ernest O. Lawrence, 1960-1968. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Gentner, Wolfgang, 1906-. Oral history interview with Wolfgang Gentner, 1971 November 15. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
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creatorOf University of Michigan. Dept. of Physics. Dept. of Physics (University of Michigan) records, 1873-[ongoing]. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Gamow, George, 1904-1968. Postcard, 1934 Aug. 7. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn Lee A. DuBridge papers, 1932-1986 California Institute of Technology. Archives.
referencedIn Dennison, David M. (David Mathias), 1900-1976. Informal moments, Summer Symposia at the University of Michigan [motion picture] / taken by David Dennison ; 1933-1937. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Reynolds, Wallace B. Oral history interview with Wallace B. Reynolds, 1975 December 12. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 1901-1958. Ernest O. Lawrence papers, 1948-1958. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn United States. Office of Scientific Research and Development. S-1 Files. Bush - Conant File. memorandum, Ernest O. Lawrence to Conant, 5/31/44. Denver Art Museum
referencedIn Brueckner, Keith A. Autobiography, 1986. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967. Papers of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1921-1980 (bulk 1947-1967). Library of Congress
referencedIn McMillan, Edwin M. (Edwin Mattison), 1907-. Oral history interview with Edwin M. McMillan, 1972 June 1 to 31 October. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Chadwick, James, 1891-1974. Oral history interview with James Chadwick, 1969 April 15 to 20. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
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referencedIn Evans, Robley Dunglison, 1907-. Oral history interview with Robley D. Evans, 1972 May 2 to 14 June 1978. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Panofsky, Wolfgang Kurt Hermann, 1919-. Oral history interview with Wolfgang Kurt Hermann Panofsky, 1973 May 15 to 1974 June 3. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
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creatorOf Lawrence, John Hundale, 1904-. Photographs from the John Hundale Lawrence papers [graphic]. UC Berkeley Libraries
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referencedIn Farnsworth, Philo Taylor, 1906-1971. The Philo T. Farnsworth-George Everson collection, 1914-. Arizona State University Libraries
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referencedIn Brobeck, William Morrison, 1908-. Oral history interview with William M. Brobeck, 1975 June 19 to 1 February 1976. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
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referencedIn McMillan, Edwin M. (Edwin Mattison), 1907-. Edwin M. McMillan interview, 1972, June 1 and October 30. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Gamow, George, 1904-1968. Postcard, 1934 Aug. 7. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
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referencedIn Seaborg, Glenn Theodore, 1912-. Glenn Theodore Seaborg papers, 1866-1999 (bulk 1940-1998). Library of Congress
referencedIn Wright, Byron T. (Byron Terry), 1917-. Clips of my life, n.d. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn General Records of the Department of Energy. 1915 - 2007. Photographs Documenting Scientists, Special Events, and Nuclear Research Facilities, Instruments, and Projects at the Berkeley Lab
referencedIn Condon, Edward Uhler, 1902-1974. Oral history interview with Edward Uhler Condon, 1967 October 17 to 12 September 1973. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Cockcroft, John, Sir, 1897-1967. Oral history interview conducted with Sir John Cockcroft, 1967 March 28. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Ernest O. Lawrence Papers, [ca. 1920-1968] Bancroft Library
referencedIn Bethe, Hans A. (Hans Albrecht), 1906-2005. Hans Bethe papers, [ca. 1931]-1992. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Serber, R. (Robert). Oral history interview with Robert Serber, 1967 February 10. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
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referencedIn Shane, Charles Donald, 1895-1983. Oral history interview with Charles Donald Shane, 1967, 11 and 14 July. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Abelson, Philip Hauge. person
associatedWith Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873 person
associatedWith Alexander, Jerome, b. 1876. person
associatedWith Aller, Lawrence H. (Lawrence Hugh), 1913-2003. person
associatedWith Alvarez, Luis W., 1911-1988. person
associatedWith American Institute of Physics. corporateBody
associatedWith Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820 person
associatedWith Beams, Jesse W. (Jesse Wakefield), 1898-1977. person
associatedWith Bethe, Hans A. (Hans Albrecht), 1906-2005. person
associatedWith Blewett, John P. (John Paul), 1910- person
associatedWith Bowen, Ira Sprague, 1898-1973. person
associatedWith Bradbury, Norris Edwin, 1909-1997. person
associatedWith Brady, James Joseph, 1904- person
associatedWith Brobeck, William Morrison, 1908- person
associatedWith Brueckner, Keith A. person
associatedWith Chadwick, James, 1891-1974. person
associatedWith Chamberlain, O. (Owen) person
associatedWith Childs, Herbert, 1904- person
associatedWith Cockcroft, John, Sir, 1897-1967. person
associatedWith Condon, Edward Uhler, 1902-1974. person
associatedWith Cooksey, Donald, b. 1892 person
associatedWith Cooper, Thomas, 1759-1839 person
associatedWith Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899 person
associatedWith Crane, H. R. (Horace Richard), 1907-2007. person
associatedWith Cuvier, Georges, Baron, 1769-1832 person
associatedWith Darlington, William, 1782-1863 person
associatedWith Darrow, Karl K. (Karl Kelchner), 1891- person
associatedWith Dennison, David M. (David Mathias), 1900-1976. person
associatedWith DuBridge, Lee A. (Lee Alvin), 1901-1994. person
associatedWith Edison, Thomas A., (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931 person
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955 person
associatedWith Evans, Robley Dunglison, 1907- person
associatedWith Everett, Edward, 1794-1865 person
associatedWith Farnsworth, Philo Taylor, 1906-1971. person
associatedWith Fitch, John person
associatedWith Gamow, George, 1904-1968. person
associatedWith Geneva Conference on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapon Tests (1958-1961?) corporateBody
associatedWith Genth, F. A., (Frederick Augustus), 1820-1893 person
associatedWith Gentner, Wolfgang, 1906- person
associatedWith Gofman, John W. person
associatedWith Goldhaber, Maurice, 1911-2011. person
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
associatedWith Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872 person
correspondedWith Gulbrandsen, Peter, 1890- person
associatedWith Hagemeyer, Johan person
associatedWith Hamilton, Joseph G. (Joseph Gilbert), 1907- person
associatedWith Harding, Warren G. person
associatedWith Helmholz, August Carl, 1915-2003. person
associatedWith Hildebrand, Joel Henry, 1881- person
associatedWith Jones, Hardin B. person
associatedWith Kruger, P. Gerald (Peter Gerald), 1902- person
associatedWith Lawrence Hall of Science. corporateBody
associatedWith Lawrence, John Hundale, 1904- person
associatedWith Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. corporateBody
associatedWith Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. corporateBody
associatedWith Libby, Willard F. person
associatedWith Lindsay, Robert Bruce, 1900- person
associatedWith Livingood, John J. (John Jacob), 1903- person
associatedWith Livingston, M. Stanley (Milton Stanley) person
associatedWith Lofgren, Edward Joseph, 1914- person
associatedWith Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. corporateBody
associatedWith McCrea, William Hunter. person
associatedWith McMillan, Edwin M. (Edwin Mattison), 1907- person
associatedWith Morrison, Philip. person
associatedWith Newcomb, Simon person
associatedWith Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727 person
associatedWith Niels Bohr Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Nix, Foster Cary, 1905- person
associatedWith Nunan, Craig S. 1918- person
associatedWith Online Archive of California. corporateBody
correspondedWith Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967. person
associatedWith Panofsky, Wolfgang Kurt Hermann, 1919- person
associatedWith Phillips, Melba, 1907- person
associatedWith Poinsett, Joel Roberts, 1779-1851 person
associatedWith Reynolds, Wallace B. person
associatedWith Rittenhouse, David, 1732-1796 person
associatedWith Rockefeller Foundation. corporateBody
associatedWith Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813 person
associatedWith Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864 person
correspondedWith Seaborg, Glenn Theodore, 1912- person
associatedWith Segrè, Emilio. person
associatedWith Serber, R. (Robert) person
associatedWith Seybert, Adam, 1773-1825 person
associatedWith Shane, Charles Donald, 1895-1983. person
associatedWith Shankland, Robert S., 1908- person
associatedWith Smyth, Henry De Wolf, 1898-1986. person
associatedWith Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Spitzer, Lyman, 1914- person
associatedWith Stevens, Henry person
associatedWith Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872 person
associatedWith Teller, Edward, 1908-2003. person
associatedWith Thomson, Charles, 1729-1824 person
associatedWith Tuve, Merle Antony, 1901-1982. person
associatedWith United States. Army. Corp. of Engineers. Manhattan District. corporateBody
associatedWith United States Military Academy. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of Scientific Research and Development. National Defense Research Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of Scientific Research and Development. S-1 Files. Bush - Conant File. corporateBody
associatedWith University of California, Berkeley. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Dept. of Physics. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Dept. of Physics. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Dept. of Physics. corporateBody
associatedWith U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Waller, Ivar, 1898-1991. person
associatedWith Waterton, Charles, 1782-1865 person
associatedWith Wayne, Anthony person
associatedWith White, Milton Grandison, 1910-1979. person
associatedWith Wiegand, Clyde Edward, 1915- person
associatedWith Wilson, Robert R., 1914-2000. person
associatedWith Woodyard, John R., 1904-1981. person
associatedWith Wright, Byron T. (Byron Terry), 1917- person
associatedWith York, Herbert F. (Herbert Frank) person
Place Name Admin Code Country
California
Subject
Nuclear physics
Scientists
Nuclear weapons
Color television
Nuclear physics--Research
Particle accelerators
Military art and science
Physics
Medical physics
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1901-08-08

Death 1958-08-27

Americans

English

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