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Charles Christian Lauritsen: Wikis


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Charles Christian Lauritsen (April 4, 1892–April 13, 1968) was a Danish-born, American physicist.


Early life and career

He was born in Holstebro, Denmark and studied architecture at the Odense Tekniske Skole, graduating in 1911. In 1916 he emigrated to the United States, where he was employed in various jobs. In 1921 he worked in Palo Alto on radio for communicating between ship and shore. He became interested in the design of radio receivers, and for a few months in 1922 was in business with two partners building radios. By 1923 he had moved to St. Louis where he was chief engineer at the Kennedy Corporation, a producer of consumer radio receivers.

In 1926 he moved to Pasadena with his wife Sigrid Henriksen and son Tommy and talked his way into graduate study in physics at Caltech. In 1929 he received his Ph.D., and in 1930 he joined the physics department faculty. He spent the remainder of his academic career as Professor of Physics at this institution, finally retiring in 1962.

In 1928 he and Ralph D. Bennett developed X-ray tubes of exceptionally high voltage. These tubes were then used for radiation therapy of cancer patients in the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory, built as a treatment clinic in 1931. In 1932 he converted one of his X-ray tubes into an accelerator of protons and helium ions and began to study nuclear reactions. In 1934, Lauritsen and H. Richard Crane used a sample of recently discovered deuterium, obtained from G.N. Lewis at Berkeley, to generate neutrons with which they made the first accelerator produced articial radioactivity. He later measured the radiation produced when a positron and an electron annihilate each other. One of his most significant discoveries was to show that protons could be captured by a carbon nucleus, releasing gamma rays. This radiative capture process was applied to the study of the nuclear processes at the heart of a star, and the production of the heavier elements. In 1939 the laboratory ceased to do medical therapy and concentrated on nuclear physics. (Lauritsen was director of the laboratory from its inception until he retired in 1962.)

In 1937 he invented a radiation detector called the Lauritsen electroscope, widely used as quartz fiber radiation dosimeters.

Weapons development

In 1940, more than a year before the U.S. entered World War II, Lauritsen began work on weapons and weapons design. His initial work was on the design and development of the proximity fuse, but for most of the war he ran a large program at Caltech that developed and manufactured a variety of rocket weapons, mostly for the Navy. In this connection he helped found the Naval Ordinance Test Station (now the China Lake Naval Weapons Center) at Inyokern, California. In the last months of the war, he helped in the American efforts to design and build an atomic bomb, including development of the "pumpkin bomb", a high explosive copy of the Fat Man bomb.

He continued his weapons work in the years following the war, and much of his work was classified. Among the projects in which he participated were Project Hartwell, Project Charles, Project Michael, and Project Vista. During the Korean War he was at the front lines just after the Inchon landings observing and evaluating American weaponry for the Defense Department. He served as an advisor to the U.S. government and as a member of many committees and other groups.

After a lengthy struggle with cancer, he died on April 13, 1968.

Awards and honors


  • William A. Fowler, "Charles Christian Lauritsen", 1969.
  • Charles H. Holbrow, "Charles C. Lauritsen: A Reasonable Man in an Unreasonable World", Physics in Perspective, vol. 5, 419-472, 2003.

External links



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