Owen Chamberlain made a scientific breakthrough of cosmic proportions. He proved the existence of the antiproton, or antimatter. His achievement, which earned him (and his University of California, Berkeley mentor Emilio Segré) the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physics, became a cornerstone of the Standard Model, the physics theory that explains what the universe is and what holds it together.
“The discovery of antiprotons,” says Nobel physicist William Phillips, “illustrates one of the most remarkable, appealing aspects of scientific research” because it built upon earlier discoveries and confirms that all particles have perfect twins differing only in their electric charge.
The continuous nature of scientific discovery fueled three intertwined loves of Chamberlain’s life: learning, physics, and teaching. In high school he was fascinated by solving physics puzzles, unraveling their mysteries for fun and zipping through complex science and math homework in minutes.
At Dartmouth he was drawn to physics because “it was always the easiest thing to do,” he recalled. He won the prestigious Thayer Prize in Mathematics and the Kramer Fellowship, which funded his initial graduate studies at Berkeley, where he taught from 1948 to 1989. During World War II he was one of the physicists who developed the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project.
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