Luis Alvarez and the Pyramid Burial Chambers, the JFK Assassination, and the End of the Dinosaurs

Charles Wohl


Luis Alvarez (1911-1988) was one of the most brilliant and productive experimental physicists of the twentieth century.  The talk will show how Luie (as everyone called him), with extraordinary knowledge, tenacity, and imagination, would attack seemingly insoluble problems in fields in which he had had no previous experience.  The discovery of what killed the dinosaurs and much of the rest of life on Earth has been called the second most important advance (after plate tectonics) in the earth sciences in the 20th century.  Here, for those not familiar with his career, is a very brief outline.  His major early work, with Lawrence in Berkeley, was in nuclear physics.  Even before the US entered WW II, Luie went to work on radar at the MIT Radiation Lab, where his many inventions included a radically improved linear dipole array, and Ground Control Approach (GCA), the first "talk-down" system for blind landings.  Midway through the War, he went to Los Alamos (with a stop on the way in Chicago to work with Fermi), where he invented the triggering system for implosion of the plutonium bomb.  In fly-bys, he witnessed the first two nuclear explosions.  After the War, he developed linear particle accelerators, and then made the hydrogen bubble chamber a major tool of particle physics.  Using the bubble chamber, his group discovered 18 particle resonant states, and for this work Luie was awarded the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physics.  In the late 1960s, Luie began the first astrophysics work at Lawrence Berkeley Lab (which eventually led to another Nobel Prize).