LBNL history goes digital

Ernest Lawrence in the early days of LBNL

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) recently released an open access archive of online photos. The archive contains more than 70,000 photos documenting some of the most profound moments of the Lab’s history (as well as some of the more mundane). So let’s take a moment to explore some of our National Lab’s history and to appreciate the scientific legacy of our predecessors.


The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was founded by Ernest Lawrence, who won the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics for inventing the cyclotron. That’s right: the Bevatron, the Large Hadron Collider—they’re all the legacy children of Ernest Lawrence’s work. The element lawrencium (Lr) was discovered here at LBNL and named in the Lab’s honor. In fact, you could attribute a rather substantial amount of the periodic table to Ernest Lawrence and what he started here.

Take seaborgium (Sg), for example. Element 106 was discovered by Albert Ghiorso and E. Kenneth Hulet in 1974, here at LBNL. They named their discovery in honor of Glenn Seaborg—UC Berkeley professor, chancellor, and winner of the 1959 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Seaborg received the prize in honor of his part in discovering the following elements: plutonium (Pu), americium (Am), curium (Cm), berkelium (Bk), californium (Cf), einsteinium (Es), fermium (Fm), mendelevium (Md), and nobelium (No). [Note: there is still no stanfordium.]

Other photos of interest: bubble chamber events! Prettier than any abstract art I’ve seen recently, bubble chambers record the trajectories of transiting particles. They are held under constant magnetic fields, which imposes a radial accelerating force on a charged particle and causes it to follow a helical path as it loses momentum. This leads to cute little spirals in all directions and sizes.

And how about this one… What would you do with carefully crafted, incredibly expensive pieces of a 60-inch cyclotron before you’ve put it together? Climb inside and pose for the camera, of course! In this image, cyclotron scientists L. Jackson Laslett, Robert Thornton, and John Backus are dwarfed by the size of this tank.

There are many, many more photos in this web archive. So take a few minutes to browse and appreciate the history, our history, as UC Berkeley and LBNL scientists. All photos are copyright of University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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