Notable Norwegians: Ernest Lawrence

Photo: Wikimedia Commons Ernest Lawrence in 1939.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Ernest Lawrence in 1939.

David Moe

Ernest Orlando Lawrence was born August 8, 1901 in Canton, South Dakota. His parents, Carl and Gunda Lawrence, were children of Norwegian immigrants. After graduation from high school, he attended St. Olaf College and then transferred to the University of South Dakota, where he received his B.A. degree in Chemistry in 1922. He received his M.A. a year later from the University of Minnesota and received his Ph.D. in Physics from Yale University in 1925. In 1928, he was appointed Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and two years later became a full Professor.

In 1932, he married Mary Kimberly Blumer, the daughter of the Emeritus Dean at Yale Medical School, and they had six children. In 1936, he became Director of Berkeley’s Radiation Laboratory and maintained this position until his death.

During World War II, Lawrence was involved with the development of the atomic bomb, holding several appointments in the project. His research was in nuclear physics. He studied the medical and biological applications of the cyclotron and became a consultant to the Institute of Cancer Research at Columbia University. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939.

Dr. Lawrence did a lot of writing about his findings and his name appeared on 56 papers, most published in The Physical Review and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He invented a method for obtaining time intervals as small as three billionths of a second and a precise method for measuring the e/m ratio of the electron. He was awarded many medals during his career and held honorary doctorate degrees at 13 American and one British University. His hobbies included boating, tennis, ice-skating, and music. He died August 27, 1958, at Palo Alto, California.

This article originally appeared in the July 17, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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