The 1992 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Georges Charpak “for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiware proportion chamber.”
The Science: Particle Detectors
As physics progressed to more refined level of experimental analysis, particle accelerators and the detectors connected to them needed to look for ever more rare particle interactions, and the particles that resulted from them.
Early bubble chamber detectors could be photographed and analyzed to identify the properties of the elementary particles that resulted from particle interactions. This often required a careful accounting of every single resulting particle trajectory. As the energy level increased within these accelerators, the resulting particle collisions created more and more particles, and it became impractical (if not impossible) for physicists to analyze film visually to identify each resulting particle trajectory.
Charpak’s work in developing the multiwire proportional chamber was focused on the idea of connecting the detector directly to a computer, allowing for the direct computational analysis of the data by the machine, rather than through visual analysis by physicists. This used modern advanced electronics to upgrade the previous design known as the proportional counter. Charpak’s innovative design reduced the scale of precision from approximately a centimeter to less than a millimeter.
This advance in particle detector technology, published in 1968, was utilized in a variety of new detector advancements, resulting in a variety of discoveries …
many of which had been recognized with Nobel Prize awards in the years preceding and following this reward for the detector design itself.
Georges Charpak was born on August 1, 1924, in Dabrovica, Poland. Charpak’s family relocated to Paris when he was 7 years old. During World War II, Charpak served in the resistance and ultimately ended up relocated to a Nazi concentration camp.
After being liberated from the camp in 1945, he returned to his academic studies. He attended a mining school, the Ecoles des Mines, in Paris, earning a bachelor’s in science degree in Mining Engineering. He then went on to the College de France, culminating in a Ph.D. in experimental physics in 1954. His thesis was on the subject of low-level radiation from the disintegration of nuclei. From 1948 through 1959, he worked with the French governmental research organization the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (NCRS) while working on his doctorate. He also got married in 1953 to Dominique Vidal.
He went on to join the staff at CERN in 1959, working there until his retirement in 1991. It was during this time that he completed the bulk of his research, including the design of the multiwire proportional chamber, and improvements on the design to include spherical drift chambers, multistage avalanche chambers, and photon counters.
Dr. Georges Charpak died on September 29, 2010, in Paris, France.