William Alfred Fowler Biography

(Nuclear Physicist and Astrophysicist)

Birthday: August 9, 1911 (Leo)

Born In: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

William Alfred Fowler was an American nuclear physicist and astrophysicist. He and Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar were the joint winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics 1983. Fowler won the Nobel Prize for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but grew up in Lima, Ohio after his father moved to the latter city after being transferred. Right from his time at high school, he displayed an aptitude for the sciences and engineering. He took admission at the Ohio State University with the intention to study ceramic engineering but his growing interest in physics made him change his mind and he graduated in engineering physics. Subsequently, he studied at the elite California Institute of Technology, from where he was awarded his Ph.D. and was associated with the institute for the major part of his academic career. He served as an assistant professor and then as a full professor at the California Institute of Technology and also served the army in a non military role during the Second World War.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: William A. Fowler

Died At Age: 83

Physicists Astrophysicists

Died on: March 14, 1995

place of death: Pasadena, California, United States

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics

Cause of Death: Kidney Failure

City: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

More Facts

education: California Institute of Technology, Ohio State University

awards: 1983 - Nobel Prize in Physics
1979 - Bruce Medal
1974 - National Medal of Science

1915 - Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
1954 - Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences
US & Canada
1978 - Eddington Medal
1970 - Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics
1975 - National Medal of Science for Physical Science

Childhood & Early Life
William Alfred Fowler was born in Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, United States on 9 August 1911, to John Macleod Fowler and his wife Jenni Summers Watson Fowler. His father was employed in the capacity of an accountant. William had a younger brother and a younger sister.
He grew up in the city of Lima in Ohio since the family had moved following his father’s transfer. Initially, he studied at the Horace Mann Grade School and later on went on to graduate from Lima Central High School in 1929. In school, he showed an early interest in the sciences and engineering.
After graduating from high school, he took admission to the Ohio State University to study ceramic engineering. However, his interest in physics made him switch to engineering physics. Following his graduation from Ohio State University in 1933, he went to California Institute of Technology for his post graduate education. He received his doctorate in 1936 from the same institute in nuclear physics.
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After attaining his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology, William Alfred Fowler was appointed as an assistant professor at the institute in 1939 and during that period he was engaged in in studying the nuclear reactions of the protons of carbon and nitrogen isotopes. The experiments commence following the discovery of CN cycle by Hans Bethe.
When the Second World War was in full swing, the Kellogg Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology was given away for defence research. In fact, in 1944, Fowler was sent to the South Pacific to assist the American forces and he stayed there in a non military capacity for three months. Two years later, he was appointed as a full professor by the California Institute of Technology.
He spent the better part of the 1950s in research related to experimental physics and one of his most celebrated work was the paper ‘Synthesis of the Elements in Stars’ which he co-authored with Fred Hoyle, Margaret Burbidge and Geoffrey Burbidge. The paper was published in the year 1957 and suggested that the process of synthesis of elements in stars starts from lighter elements.
Subsequently, he became the director of the Kellogg Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Other than his work on element generation, he was also involved in research related to the field of radio astronomy, with Fred Hoyle at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, established in 1966, at the University of Cambridge. He continued to work at Kellogg Laboratory simultaneously.
The most important work in his life as a scientist was achieved when he conducted a long drawn out study on nuclear reactions and elemental generation at the Kellogg Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. His theories on elemental generation won him the Nobel Prize in 1983, which he shared with Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar who had conducted an independent study on the same subject.
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Major Works
His most significant work was his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe"..
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Barnard Medal for Meritorious Service to Science in 1965.
In 1973, he was awarded the Vetlesen Prize.
He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1974.
In 1983, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Subramanyan Chandrasekhar. Fowler was awarded "for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe".
Personal Life & Legacy
He got married to Adriane Foy Olmsted on 24 August 1940. The couple had two daughters, named, Mary and Martha.
William Alfred Fowler died on 14 March 1995 due to kidney failure in Pasadena, California, at the age of 83.

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