Nobel Prizes for accelerators   updated February 23, 2016  carrigan@fnal.gov (subject line must be sensible)

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Accelerator physicists sometimes feel they are treated like second class citizens  charged only with building and operating the machines for research by others. In fact the field has its share of Nobel Prize winners. Some of  the attainments of accelerator builders have been so monumental that the accelerator physicists themselves lose sight of the fact that the ideas arose out of what became their field. There is an important lesson here in the fact that interest in scientific instrumentation often produces practical applications and fundamental knowledge at the same time. The first two developments below, the discovery of x-rays and what became the TV tube, have impacted every nook and cranny of modern technical civilization.

The Nobel Prizes in physics won by accelerator builders include:

W. C. Rontgen (1901) " the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him." Rontgen used a so-called discharge tube which produced the xrays he discovered. This was the first x-ray machine.

J. J. Thomson (1906) " theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases."  Actually for the most important part, the observation of the electron, Thomson had to pump out all of the gas in what amounted to the first TV tube. This primitive accelerator was the genesis of all modern TV tubes.

E. O. Lawrence (1939) " the invention and development of the cyclotron ..." The  cyclotron is the basis for all modern circular accelerators.
J. D. Cockcroft and E. T. S. Walton (1951) "transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles." They invented the so-called Cockcroft-Walton accelerator, for many years the first stage in the Fermilab accelerator chain Fermilab accelerator chain

E. M. McMillan (1951 chemistry) McMillan received his Nobel Prize with Glenn Seaborg for "discoveries in the chemistry of the transuranium elements." His discovery of  phase stability (also found by Veksler in the Soviet Union) led to the invention of the synchrotron  and synchro-cyclotron.

R. Hofstadter  (1961) "electron scattering in atomic nuclei..." Hofstadter was also an instrumentalist and perfected the thallium-activated sodium iodide detector for gamma rays. In the late thirties he helped build a Van de Graaff at Pennsylvania. As noted on the advanced accelerator page
Hofstadter had some novel ideas for super accelerators.

S. van der Meer (1984) Van der Meer played a significant part in the development of antiproton cooling. While cooling does not sound like acceleration it is very necessary to gather the large store of antiprotons needed in the Fermilab Tevatron collider. Parenthetically, Van der Meer also developed some of the designs used for neutrino horns, necessary for neutrino physics. At Carnegie Mellon I helped Roger Sutton develop a muon channel based on Van der Meer's design for use in mesic x-ray experiments.

G. Charpak (1992)
Charpak received his Nobel Prize for the
"invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multi-wire proportional chamber". This has had many impacts on high energy physics instrumentation and other areas.
 


S. Kulander has prepared a comprehensive review  of accelerators and the history of accelerators.