Ernest Lawrence and Enrico Fermi
December 17—Ernest O. Lawrence and Enrico Fermi seemed to live parallel lives. They were born only a month apart, though an ocean away—Lawrence in South Dakota and Fermi in Rome, Italy. Both Lawrence and Fermi became interested in physics at an early age; both won Nobel Prizes only a year apart for work related to the discovery of radioactive elements; both contributed significantly as leaders in winning the science war during World War II; and sadly, both died premature deaths—Fermi was only 54 years old and Lawrence was 57.
But this was not the end of their similarities. Prestigious science awards were established as memorials for both Fermi and Lawrence by President Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission, now the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Fermi Award is for lifetime achievements of internationally recognized scientists; the Lawrence Award recognizes relatively recent achievements and excellence in nuclear science and technology, and, as Lawrence did, it also encourages and supports the careers of scientists and engineers who show exceptional promise for the future.
Lawrence was the second-ever recipient of the Enrico Fermi Award in 1957,
just a year before his death, and Lawrence's own memorial award was established
a year after his death in 1959.
Lawrence was the University of California's first Nobel Prize winner for his invention of the cyclotron, the granddaddy of today's most powerful accelerators. He was the "father of big science," the first to advance the idea of doing research with multidisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers—the team-based approach to modern science.
"Lawrence will always be remembered as the inventor of the cyclotron, but more importantly, he should be remembered as the inventor of the modern way of doing science," said Lawrence team member Luis Alvarez, winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize for Physics.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory celebrated the Lawrence's centennial birthday with a special issue of LLNL's Newsline newsletter that covered Lawrence's myriad accomplishments as well as his approach to "big science," recollections from his son Robert, and articles by former LLNL directors Edward Teller, Herbert York, and John Foster.
In celebration of Lawrence and his legacy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory created a series of articles with rare photographs on the Lab's website to enlighten readers about Lawrence's revolutionary idea of the cyclotron, highlight the landmarks of his remarkable life, and preserve words of remembrance from those who knew him.