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Ernest Orlando Lawrence

Ernest Orlando Lawrence was born on 8 August, 1901 in Canton, South Dakota. He received a Bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of South Dakota in 1922, a Master's degree in 1923 from the University of Minnesota, and a Ph.D. from Yale in 1925. Lawrence took the position of Associate Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1928 and became the school's youngest Professor in 1930.

In 1929, Lawrence invented the cyclotron, a device capable of smashing atoms, a major advancement for the development of the atomic bomb. The machine used an electromagnet to accelerate nuclear particles to the point that they could then bombard atoms, producing both completely new elements and radioactive isotopes of existing elements.

Lawrence was appointed to Director of the University's Radiation Laboratory in 1936 and was

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awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the cyclotron. He was rapidly becoming a prominent public figure at Berkeley and upon his nomination for the Nobel Prize, Time magazine gave Lawrence god-like status by featuring him on the cover with a caption reading, "He creates and destroys." The success guaranteed Lawrence the future funding he needed from Berkeley to continue his research. It also marked the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between the University Regents and the US military.

In the summer of 1939, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt received aletter written by Leo Szilard and signed by Albert Einstein expressing concerns about the possibility of Germany developing an atomic bomb. This prompted President Roosevelt to establish the Uranium Committee, although it remained a relatively low priority for the administration for two years. British physicist, Mark Oliphant, came to Berkeley in 1942 and voiced his concern about the increasing threat of German atomic bomb capabilities to Ernest Lawrence, who quickly informed President Roosevelt. The Uranium Committee proceeded to take a much more urgent and highly classified approach to developing the atomic bomb than it had taken previously.

Lawrence and his Radiation Lab had access to unlimited federal funding because of his earlier accomplishments, which allowed him to build a new machine. In appreciation for Berkeley's support, Lawrence named the machines "calutrons." These converted cyclotrons were capable of separating uranium-235 from gaseous uranium hexafluoride. One of the calutrons, designated "Alpha-1," was intended to produce the weapons grade uranium necessary for the bomb's core.

After World War II, Lawrence continued his research in the field of nuclear weapons technology and became an advocate for developing the hydrogen bomb. His support for nuclear weapons earned Lawrence a favorable position in the eyes of the military. Additionally, two national laboratories were named after him. In 1958, Lawrence attended the Geneva Conference to suspend atomic bomb tests as a member of the US delegation.

Ernest Orlando Lawrence died on 27 August, 1958 in Palo Alto, California, but he left behind a legacy that continues to shape the relations between universities and the military.