Georges Charpak, Nobel laureate for inventing and developing particle detectors

Georges Charpak

August 1, 1924, in Dąbrowica (Poland) – September 29, 2010, in Paris (France)

He was born in Poland to a Jewish family of Polish-Ukrainian origin and when he was 7 years old, they emigrated to Paris (France).

During World War II, Charpak joined the French Resistance and was taken prisoner by the Vichy French authorities in 1943. A year later, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, where he remained until his liberation in 1945.

That same year, after graduating from Montpellier high school, he entered the École des Mines in Paris, one of the most prestigious engineering schools in France, graduating in 1948 as a mining engineer and already a French citizen (he was naturalized in 1946).

He started working for the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and received his doctorate in nuclear physics from the Collègue de France (Paris) in 1954, where he worked in the laboratory of Jean Fréderic Joliot-Curie.

In 1959, he joined the staff of CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) in Geneva, one of the world's leading research institutions.

In 1984, he became a professor at the School of Advanced Studies in Physics and Chemistry in Paris, and a year later, he became a member of the French Academy of Sciences.

In 1992, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing and developing particle detectors, specifically, the multiwire proportional chamber (see photo).

In France, Charpak was a strong advocate of nuclear power and was a member of the committee that publishes the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

But what is a multi-wire proportional chamber?

Cámara Proporcional Multihilos de Charpak

The study of the reactions, sometimes very complex, between elementary particles provides knowledge of their properties and the forces that act between them. Sometimes several hundred particles can be created in a single collision, and to interpret them scientists need to record the trajectory of each of the particles involved.

Until the 1970s, the recording was made using photographic means and the images were later analyzed with the help of special measuring devices, a slow and laborious process. Thanks to Charpak and the use of his camera, physicists can now use computers to filter and distinguish what is important from what is considered noise.

In itself, the multiwire proportional chamber is a particle detector that allows determining the energy and direction of the incident particle, thanks to the fact that it combines two concepts, the Geiger-Müller counter, and the proportional counter.

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