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Georges Charpak

(1924 - 2010)

Georges Charpak was a French physicist, Holocaust survivor and winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Charpak (born August 1, 1924; died September 29, 2010) was born in Dubrovytsia, Volyn' (Ukraine). Charpak's family moved from Poland to Paris when he was seven years old. During World War II, Charpak served in the resistance and was imprisoned by Vichy authorities in 1943. In 1944 he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, where he remained until the camp was liberated in 1945. Charpak became a French citizen in 1946.

He received his doctorate in 1955 from the College de France, Paris, where he worked in the laboratory of Frederic Joliot-Curie. In 1959, he joined the staff of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva and in 1984 also became Joliot-Curie professor at the School of Advanced Studies in Physics and Chemistry, Paris.

He was made a member of the French Academy of Science in 1985. In 1992, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics “for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber.”

The following press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences describes Charpak's work:

A breakthrough in the technique for exploring the innermost parts of matter.

This year's Nobel Prize in physics is awarded to Georges Charpak, France, for his invention and development of detectors in high energy physics. Since 1959 Charpak is working at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics situated in the canton of Geneva in Switzerland. Charpak invented the multiwire proportional chamber at CERN. The pioneering work was published in 1968. Largely due to his work particle physicists have been able to focus their interest on very rare particle interactions, which often reveal the secrets of the inner parts of matter. Sometimes only one particle interaction in a billion is the one searched for. The experimental difficulty lies in choosing the very few but exceptionally interesting particle interactions out of the many observed. Photographic methods, once so very successful in exploring particle processes, are not good enough for this. In the new wire chamber Charpak used modern electronics and realised the importance of connecting the detector directly to a computer. The invention made it possible to increase the data collection speed with a factor of a thousand compared to previous methods for registering charged particle trajectories. At the same time the high spatial resolution was very often considerably improved. His fundamental idea has since been developed and for more than two decades Charpak has been at the forefront of this development.

The development of detectors very often goes hand in hand with progress in fundamental research. Various types of particle detectors based on Charpak's original invention have been of decisive importance for many discoveries particle physics during the last two decades. Several of these have been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Charpak has actively contributed to the use of is new type of detector in various applications in for example medicine and biology.

Sources: Wikipedia,