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Luis Walter Alvarez
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Scientist
    (June 13, 1911-September 1, 1988)
    Born in San Francisco, California
    Physicist/inventor
    During WWII, developed the first radar-guided bomb and the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) system allowing planes to land in poor visibility
    In the Manhattan Project, designed the method to compress plutonium into a critical mass
    Observing from a B-29, measured the strength of the atom bomb explosions at Trinity, Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    Oversaw construction of the first proton linear accelerator (1947)
    Won the Nobel Prize in Physics for designing the liquid hydrogen bubble chamber and using it to discover new subatomic particles (1968)
    With his son Walter, discovered that the boundary layer between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods was enriched in the element iridium (1980)
    Proposed that the iridium was the result of an asteroid striking Earth, which caused a mass extinction, killing off the dinosaurs (among other species)
    Held 22 patents
    Inventions included the radar transponder, variable focus eyeglass lenses and an indoor stroboscopic golf trainer
    As a teen, he engaged in what he called 'controlled disrespect for authority' -- mostly breaking into building sites after dark to explore.
    He got his first scientific position, at Ernest O. Lawrence's Radiation Lab at the University of California, partly through family connections: his sister was Lawrence's secretary and his physician father had helped finance the construction of Lawrence's cyclotrons.
    When his theory about the extinction of dinosaurs ran into initial skepticism, he responded, 'I don't like to say bad things about paleontologists, but they're not very good scientists. They're more like stamp collectors.'
    At least once a year, he would bump into someone who thanked him for GCA, explaining 'I was a pilot in the Second World War and you saved my life.'
    The American Journal of Physics called him 'one of the most brilliant and productive experimental physicists of the twentieth century.'
    His explanation for how he contributed to so many areas of science: 'My father advised me to sit every few months in my reading chair for an entire evening, close my eyes and try to think of new problems to solve. I took his advice very seriously and have been glad ever since that I did.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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