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Luis Alvarez

Luis Alvarez, a physics Nobel laureate, had a long and brilliant career as a physicist. In 1980, he proposed a now famous thesis on the extinction of dinosaurs, suggesting it had been caused by an asteroid colliding with the Earth some 160 million years ago. The resulting cloud of dust would have blocked out the Sun for months. With the help of his geologist son, Luis Alvarez was able to find traces of this cloud responsible for the dinosaurs' starvation; a cloud that had covered the Earth's surface with a thin layer of dust containing radioactive iridium from outer space, an isotope rarely found on Earth.

In 1940 Alvarez joined the MIT Radiation Laboratory, where he contributed to a number of World War II radar projects, from early improvements to Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) radar beacons, now called transponders, to a system known as VIXEN for preventing enemy submarines from realizing that they had been found by the new airborne microwave radars. The radar system for which Alvarez is best known and which has played a major role in aviation, most particularly in the post war Berlin airlift, was Ground Controlled Approach (GCA). Alvarez spent a few months at the University of Chicago working on nuclear reactors for Enrico Fermi before coming to Los Alamos to work for Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan project. Alvarez worked on the design of explosive lenses, and the development of exploding-bridgewire detonators. As a member of Project Alberta, he observed the Trinity nuclear test from a B-29 Superfortress, and later the bombing of Hiroshima from the B-29 The Great Artiste.
After the war Alvarez was involved in the design of a liquid hydrogen bubble chamber that allowed his team to take millions of photographs of particle interactions, develop complex computer systems to measure and analyze these interactions, and discover entire families of new particles and resonance states. This work resulted in his being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1968. He was involved in a project to x-ray the Egyptian pyramids to search for unknown chambers. With his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, he developed the Alvarez hypothesis which proposes that the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs was the result of an asteroid impact.

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