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Luis Alvarez was an American experimental physicist who was famous for his 1968 Nobel Prize for physics, discovering a number of resonance or short-lived subatomic particles. Being an expert in physics did not stop him from digging into paleontology and solving mysteries.
See the fact file below for more information on the Luis Alvarez or alternatively, you can download our 20-page Luis Alvarez worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY
- Born on June 13, 1911 in San Francisco, California, Luis Walter Alvarez was the second child and oldest son of a doctor and author of medical books, Walter Clement Alvarez, and his wife, Harriet Nee Smyth. Luis had an older sister and two younger siblings.
- He was the grandson of a Spanish physician who found a cure for macular leprosy, Luis F. Alvarez.
- From 1818 to 1924, he attended Madison School in San Francisco, then San Francisco Polytechnic High School.
- In 1926, his family moved to Rochester because his father became a researcher at the Mayo Clinic. He transferred to Rochester High School.
- Alvarez received his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1932, and graduated from the University of Chicago. He was also a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He earned his master’s degree in 1934, and his Ph.D. in 1936.
- He married his first wife, Geraldine Smithwick, in one of the chapels at the University of Chicago. They had two children: Walter and Jean.
- After divorcing in 1957, Alvarez married his second wife, Janet Landis, on December 28, 1958, with whom he had two children: Donald and Helen.
- As a graduate student in 1932, he built an array of Geiger counters, an instrument for the detection and measurement of ionizing radiation, to study cosmic rays.
- In 1933, he and Arthur Compton, his doctoral advisor who won the 1927 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of electromagnetic radiation, published a paper in the Physical Review defining cosmic rays as positively charged particles.
- After his Ph.D. in 1936, he went back to San Francisco to work as an experimental physicist at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley.
- Alvarez became a physics professor in 1945 at the University of California in Berkeley, and became professor emeritus in 1978.
- His older sister, Gladys, worked as a part-time secretary for Ernest Lawrence, an American nuclear scientist who won the 1939 Nobel Prize for his discovery of cyclotron. Because of his sister’s effort, Alvarez got invited by Lawrence to join his tour for the Century of Progress exhibit in Chicago.
SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
- In 1938, Alvarez discovered that some radioactive elements decay by orbital electron capture, such that an orbital electron combines with a proton to form a neutron, creating an element with an atomic number smaller by one.
- A year later, he and Felix Bloch, a Swiss-born American physicist who shared with EM Purcell the 1952 Nobel Prize in physics for developing the nuclear magnetic resonance method, formulated the magnetic moment of the neutron, a characteristic of the strength and direction of its magnetic field.
- With the help of Ernest Lawrence, he was able to prove the stability of Helium-3, although this had been predicted to be unstable.
- In the early 1940s, Alvarez built the microwave phased array antenna, a form of radar used by the ground crew to give the precise location of an aircraft in flight. His invention gave clear instructions to pilots as their aircrafts approached runways. This system was also useful when there is poor visibility or when the pilot lacks experience.
- Aside from that, the military and civil authorities in different countries used this discovery, enhancing air safety. Alvarez’s ground-controlled approach radar allowed aircrafts to be guided by air traffic controllers where visibility was poor.
- During World War II, he proposed a method to detect countries doing nuclear weapons research. He devised a method for aerial bombing using radars to locate targets.
- In 1944, he worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico. He participated in the development of an electrical detonation method for the plutonium bomb. Together with Lawrence Johnston, his graduate student, they created a device to compute the released energy of a nuclear explosion.
- In 1968, he was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering new subatomic particles and resonance states. He built a bubble chamber filled with liquid Hydrogen, which would boil if a high energy particle would pass through it, leaving a path which allows the particle’s properties to be measured.
- Using radiation from space to search for pyramid chambers, he thought that cosmic rays could help in taking an x-ray type photo of Egypt’s pyramids to locate hidden chambers. He chose the Pyramid of Chephren as his subject of study, placing a cosmic ray detector in one of the chambers below the pyramid. He proposed that the rate from cosmic rays as seen in the detector would reveal cavities within the pyramid’s structure.
- Together with his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, and nuclear chemists Frank Asaro and Helen Michel, he discovered a worldwide layer of clay, rich in iridium content, and said to have been present since the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. They proposed that this chemical element had been found after the impact of an asteroid or comet, causing the extinction of dinosaurs.
Luis Alvarez Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Luis Alvarez across 20 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Luis Alvarez worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Luis Alvarez who was an American experimental physicist who was famous for his 1968 Nobel Prize for physics, discovering a number of resonance or short-lived subatomic particles. Being an expert in physics did not stop him from digging into paleontology and solving mysteries.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Luis Alvarez Facts
- Who is Luis Alvarez
- His Timeline
- Test Yourself!
- Flight Landing
- Dinosaurs were Here!
- Top Secret Project
- Adventures of a Physicist
- A Quote From Alvarez
- Letters to Alvarez
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Use With Any Curriculum
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