William Alfred Fowler

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Willy Fowler
William Alfred Fowler.jpg
Born(1911-08-09)August 9, 1911
DiedMarch 14, 1995(1995-03-14) (aged 83)
Alma materCaltech (PhD)
AwardsBarnard Medal for Meritorious Service to Science (1965)
Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics (1970)
Vetlesen Prize (1973)
National Medal of Science (1974)
Eddington Medal (1978)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1983)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorCharles Christian Lauritsen
Doctoral studentsJ. Richard Bond, Donald Clayton, F. Curtis Michel

William Alfred "Willy" Fowler (August 9, 1911 – March 14, 1995) was an American nuclear physicist, later astrophysicist, who, with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is known for his theoretical and experimental research into nuclear reactions within stars and the energy elements produced in the process.[1]


Fowler was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the eldest of John and Jennie Watson Fowler's three children.[1] The family moved to Lima, Ohio, a steam railroad town, when Fowler was two years old. Growing up near the Pennsylvania Railway Yard influenced Fowler's interest in locomotives. Later in 1973, he would travel to the USSR just to observe the steam engine that powered the Trans Siberian Railway plying the nearly 2,500-kilometer route that connects Khabarovsk and Moscow.[2]

Fowler graduated from the Ohio State University, where he was a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and received a Ph.D. in nuclear physics at the California Institute of Technology.[3]

Although an experimental nuclear physicist, Fowler's most famous paper was "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars", coauthored with Cambridge cosmologist Fred Hoyle and in collaboration with two young Cambridge astronomers, E. Margaret Burbidge and Geoffrey Burbidge. That 1957 paper in Reviews of Modern Physics[4] categorized most nuclear processes for origin of all but the lightest chemical elements in stars. It is widely known as the B2FH paper.

Fowler succeeded Charles Lauritsen as director of the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at Caltech, and was himself later succeeded by Steven E. Koonin. Fowler was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford.[5]

Fowler won the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society in 1963, the Vetlesen Prize in 1973, the Eddington Medal in 1978, the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1979, and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe (shared with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar).[6][7]

Fowler was the doctoral advisor at Caltech for Donald D. Clayton, who became the leader of the next generation of nuclear astrophysics and who in 2000 was elected Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[citation needed]

A lifelong fan of steam locomotives, Fowler owned several working models of various sizes, one pictured here.[8] He died in Pasadena, California.[9]


  • Fowler, W.A.; Lauritsen, C.C; Lauritsen, T. (1948). "Gamma radiation from light nuclei under proton bombardment". Physical Review. 73 (2): 181–182. Bibcode:1948PhRv...73..181F. doi:10.1103/physrev.73.181.2.
  • Cook, C.W.; Fowler, W.A.; Lauritsen, C.C.; Lauritsen, T. (1957). "B12, C12 and Red Giants". Physical Review. 107 (2): 508. Bibcode:1957PhRv..107..508C. doi:10.1103/physrev.107.508.
  • Clayton, Donald D.; Fowler, W.A..; Hull, T.E.; Zimmerman, B.A. (1961). "Neutron capture chains in heavy element synthesis". Annals of Physics. 12 (3): 331–408. Bibcode:1961AnPhy..12..331C. doi:10.1016/0003-4916(61)90067-7.
  • Burbidge, E. M.; Burbidge, G. R.; Fowler, W. A.; Hoyle, F. (1957). "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars". Reviews of Modern Physics. 29 (4): 547–650. Bibcode:1957RvMP...29..547B. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.29.547.
  • Fowler, W. A. (1958). "Temperature and Density Conditions for Nucleogenesis by Fusion Processes in Stars". W. K. Kellogg Radiation Laboratory. OSTI 4308210.
  • Seeger, P. A.; Fowler, W. A.; Clayton, Donald D. (1965). "Nucleosynthesis of heavy elements by neutron capture". Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. 11: 121. Bibcode:1965ApJS...11..121S. doi:10.1086/190111.
  • Bodansky, D.; Clayton, Donald D.; Fowler, W.A. (1968). "Nucleosynthesis during silicon burning". Physical Review Letters. 20 (4): 161–164. Bibcode:1968PhRvL..20..161B. doi:10.1103/physrevlett.20.161.
  • Holmes, J.A.; Woosley, S.E.; Fowler, W.A.; Zimmerman, B.A. (1976). "Tables of thermonuclear-reaction-rate for neutron-induced reactions on heavy nuclei". Atomic Data and Nuclear Data Tables. 18: 305. Bibcode:1976ADNDT..18..305H. doi:10.1016/0092-640x(76)90011-5.



  1. ^ a b Oakes, Elizabeth (2007). Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Revised Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 245. ISBN 9780816061587.
  2. ^ Sidharth, B. G. (2008). A Century of Ideas: Perspectives from Leading Scientists of the 20th Century. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 19. ISBN 9781402043598.
  3. ^ Carey, Jr., Charles (2006). American Scientists. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 120. ISBN 0816054991.
  4. ^ Burbidge, E. M.; Burbidge, G. R.; Fowler, W. A.; Hoyle, F. (1957). "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars". Reviews of Modern Physics. 29 (4): 547–650. Bibcode:1957RvMP...29..547B. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.29.547.
  5. ^ http://www.clemson.edu/ces/astro/NucleoArchive/PhotoList/1970s/75WAF_Pres.html
  6. ^ "The Bruce Medalists: William A. Fowler". www.phys-astro.sonoma.edu. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  7. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1983". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  8. ^ http://www.clemson.edu/ces/astro/NucleoArchive/PhotoList/1970s/71Train.html
  9. ^ Dicke, William (1995-03-16). "William A. Fowler, 83, Astrophysicist, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-14.

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