Donald Glaser

glaser1960 Nobel Prize for Physics

• Presentation of Award
• Acceptance Speech
• Biography Submitted by Dr. Glaser to the Nobel Committee

• Presentation of Award: 1960 Nobel Prize for Physics

Dr. Donald Glaser with Bubble Chamber

Dr. Donald Glaser with xenon bubble chamber, taken in Bevatron, April 7, 1960.
Professor K. Siegbahn, member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences:
Your which are made visible in this refined manner are no larger than one-hundredth of a billionth of a millimeter.

The Wilson-chamber has certainly played a tremendously important role, especially during the 30’s, which is referred to as the golden age of nuclear physics, and there is no doubt that it was the Wilson-chamber which made possible the greatest nuclear physical discoveries during that decade. It was also an ideal research instrument for that time, because the nuclear particles which were then of interest, and which were possible to depict by artificial means twenty to thirty years ago, had ranges which, for the most part, are of the order of several decimeters in a gas at normal pressure. In other words particles had energies of some million volts and there was no difficulty in using the Wilson-chambers, which were sufficiently large, in order to be able to photograph paths of all incoming particles along its entire length as well as all of the possible nuclear reactions which would have enough room to occur within the Wilson-chamber.

Even if the principle of Glaser’s bubble-chamber can be considered simple, it represents an exceedingly difficult development program requiring several years of work which lie back of the completed invention which shall now be awarded this prize.

Rather soon after Glaser had published his ideas and the results of his first experiments, there were several persons who realized that something important would come of this. Several other scientists also left important contributions to the practical shaping of different types of bubble-chambers, but Glaser is the one who made the really fundamental contributions. In order to get his apparatus to function Glaser was forced to consider the physics of bubble formation both from theoretical and experimental points of view. As usual, It turned out that only a systematic procedure for studying the complete problem led to a solution.

The most striking feature of development during the most recent years is without doubt the increase in size of the bubble-chamber. Glaser’s first little glass-receptacle of some centimeters in size and filled with ordinary ether has successively grown to extraordinary voluminous proportions which represent the engineering art’s most exclusive subtleties. The largest chamber built to the present time is close to 2 m long, 1/2 m wide and deep, and contains liquid hydrogen which is condensed by a large cooling device providing temperatures in the vicinity of absolute zero. This largest liquid chamber is surrounded by a powerful electromagnet which is capable of bending the paths of the particles so that the faint bubbletracks become slightly curved. In this way one is able to identify the unknown atomic particles when they, traveling very close to the speed of light, pass through the chamber. The large bubblechamber has also an extremely complicated automatic read-off and calculation apparatus which sends information from the tracks in the bubble-chamber into a larger mathematic-computer, which, in turn, after a moment’s thought, forwards from the world of atoms the news which the nuclear researcher so eagerly awaits. This part of the set-up has received the characterization name of “Frankenstein.”

By using Glaser’s bubble-chamber the modern nuclear researcher has at his disposal just the scientific instrument which is required in order to exploit the gigantic atomic accelerators which in recent years have been constructed in atomic research centers in the U.S.A., West Europe, and Russia. Large research teams are now at work investigating the strange, new particles which are formed, transformed, and annihilated when the beam from these machines is directed into the bubble-chamber; how atomic nuclei are split, and how from the atomic fragments new particles are again generated to later change guise and finally be destroyed.

© the Nobel Foundation 1961

• Acceptance Speech

Press conference for Nobel Prize to Donald Glaser with Glenn Seaborg at left, November 1960.
Your Majesties, your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
As my fellow laureates in science have just emphasized to you, the advance of modern science is possible only because of the complete cooperation and collaboration of many scientists. We depend heavily not only on the insights and successes of our predecessors who have built the foundations on which we work, but also on the day-to-day exchanges of ideas and experimental results which are the product of scientific research. All of us feel quite strongly that we stand here to be honored mainly as representatives of the scientific community who share in this work.

My own field of research, high energy nuclear physics, is especially remote from the experience of ordinary daily life since it deals with experiments on objects much too small to see or perceive directly. Cooperative efforts are particularly essential in this field because very expensive and large machines must be used in the types of experiments which are currently the most fruitful.

The first Nobel Prize in physics was awarded in 1901, nearly sixty years ago, so in a way I represent the third generation of Nobel laureates in physics.

Seven LBL Nobel laureates, posed in front of Ernest Lawrence’s 37-inch cyclotron magnet. Left to right are Owen Chamberlain, Edwin McMillan, Emilio Serge, Melvin Calvin, Donald Glaser, Luis Alvarez and Glenn Seaborg. March 7, 1969.
There are several specific ways in which I consider myself a third generation Nobel laureate. My major professor in graduate school, Professor Carl D. Anderson, is a Nobel laureate, as was his teacher, Professor Robert A. Millikan, so that now my students are beginning to look at each other with a certain increased interest. Secondly, I am the third physicist to be honored for having developed an instrument for “seeing” the tracks of atomic particles. Professor C. T. R. Wilson was the first to do this with his cloud chamber, and Professor C. F. Powell was the second with his development of the nuclear emulsion technique. My work was inspired and was, in fact, only possible because of the work of my predecessors in this field. It will be useful only because of the work of my colleagues and successors. As a final example of cooperation among scientists which has extended into the third generation, the white vest which I am wearing belongs to Professor Edwin M. McMillan, who wore it here in 1951; it was also worn here in 1959 by Professor Emilio Segré. It has now come to be regarded by Professor McMillan as a very valuable piece of equipment.

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Alfred Nobel and to the many individuals and institutions in Sweden which have so effectively carried out his wishes in bringing great honor to science and literature.

© the Nobel Foundation 1961

• Biography Submitted by Dr. Glaser to the Nobel Committee

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio on September 21, 1926, the son of William J. Glaser, a businessman, and his wife LENA. After receiving my early education in the public school system of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, I took my B. S. degree in physics and mathematics in 1946 at the Case Institute of Technology. My first original research is described in my bachelor’s thesis and consists of an electron diffraction study of the properties of thin metallic films evaporated onto crystalline metal substrates.

After serving as an instructor of mathematics at the Case Institute of Technology during the Spring of 1946, I began my graduate study at the California Institute of Technology in the Fall of 1946 where I finished my Ph.D. work in the Fall of 1949 and received my degree officially in physics and mathematics in 1950. My doctoral thesis research was an experimental study of the momentum spectrum of high energy cosmic ray and mesons at sea level.

In the Fall of 1949 I began my career of full-time teaching and research in the Physics Department of the University of Michigan, being promoted to the rank of Professor in 1957. In 1959 I became Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley. My main research interest during this period has been the elementary particles of physics, particularly the strange particles. I examined various experimental techniques that appeared useful in this research and constructed a number of diffusion cloud chambers and parallel-plate spark counters before finally beginning to develop the ideas that led to the invention of the bubble chamber in 1952. Since that time I have been working on the development of various types of bubble chambers for experiments in high energy nuclear physics as well as carrying out experiments on elementary particles at the Cosmotron of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and the Bevatron of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in California. These experiments gave information on the lifetimes, decay modes, and spins of the [see text for symbol] hyperon, [see text] meson and [see text] hyperon as well as differential cross-sections for the production of those particles by pions.

Other experiments yielded information on pion-proton scattering, parity violation in non-leptonic hyperon decay, and the branching ratios in positive K meson decay.

All of these experiments and technical developments of the past six years have been done in collaboration with a number of my thesis students and colleagues at the University of Michigan and the University of California in Berkeley, where I have been since 1959. These associates include J. Brown, H. Bryant, R. Burnstein, J. Cronin, C. Graves, R. Hartung, J. Kadyr, D. Meyer, M. Perl, D. Rahm, B. Roe, L. Roellig, D. Sinclair, G. Trilling, J. Van Der Velde, J. Van Putten, and T. Zipf. The researches were supported at first by the University of Michigan and later by the National Science Foundation of the United States and the United States Atomic Energy Commission.

Honors that have come to me include the Henry Russel Award of the University of Michigan in 1953 for distinction and promise in teaching and research; the Charles Vernon Boys Prize of the Physical Society, London, in 1958 for distinction in experimental physics; the American Physical Society Prize (sponsored by the Hughes Aircraft Company) for contributions to experimental physics in 1959; and the award of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the Case Institute of Technology in 1959.

I am a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the Sigma Xi and Tau Beta Pi honorary societies.

In 1960, I married the former Ruth Bonnie Thompson.

© the Nobel Foundation 1961
Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Last modified Tuesday, 23-Mar-2010 14:42:47 PDT