Ernest Orlando Lawrence was an American scientist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1939 for his invention of the cyclotron. He is also known for his work on uranium-isotope separation for the Manhattan Project, and for founding the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.
A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Lawrence completed his Doctor of Philosophy degree in physics at Yale in 1925. In 1928, he was hired as an Associate Professor of Physics at the University of California, becoming the youngest full professor there two years later. In its library one evening, Lawrence was intrigued by a diagram of an accelerator that produced high-energy particles. He contemplated how it could be made compact, and came up with an idea for a circular accelerating chamber between the poles of an electromagnet. The result was the first cyclotron. Lawrence went on to build a series of ever larger and more expensive cyclotrons. His Radiation Laboratory became an official department of the University of California in 1936, with Lawrence as its director.
During World War II, Lawrence developed electromagnetic isotope separation at the Radiation Laboratory. It used devices known as calutrons, a hybrid of the standard laboratory mass spectrometer and cyclotron. A huge electromagnetic separation plant was built at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which came to be called Y-12. The process was inefficient, but it worked.