Ernest Lawrence was born in Canton, USA, on August 8, 1901. American physicist, the first to conceive of a particle accelerator. In 1925 he received his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University, where he was an assistant professor from 1927 to 1928, when he moved to UC Berkeley, where he held a residency position before being appointed professor at 1930.
Lawrence conceived the idea of the cyclotron in 1929. One of his students, M. Stanley Livingstone, seized on his idea and built a device capable of accelerating protons to an energy of 13,000 electron volts (eV). Encouraged by the success of his student, Lawrence designed another cyclotron, capable of imparting energy of up to 1,200,000 eV to subatomic particles, enough energy to cause the disintegration of the atomic nucleus.
PTo continue with the project, he promoted the foundation of the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, of which he was appointed director (1936) and which currently bears his name. In one of his cyclotrons, he succeeded in isolating technetium for the first time, the first element not present in nature obtained artificially. With the cyclotron he also obtained radioactive phosphorus and other isotopes for medical use; he himself warned of the usefulness of neutron beams in the treatment of cancerous diseases.
In 1939 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his research.
During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project as head of the department in charge of the electromagnetic process of separating the isotope 235 from uranium for the atomic bomb. In 1957 he was awarded the Fermi Prize. Apart from his strictly theoretical work, Lawrence patented a cathode ray tube model for color televisions. In recognition of his work, element 103 on the periodic table of the elements is named laurentium.
Lawrence passed away in Palo Alto on August 27, 1958.