William A. Fowler

California Institute of Technology

August 9, 1911 - March 14, 1995

Scientific Discipline: Physics
Membership Type:
Member (elected 1956)

Astrophysicist William Fowler outlined the process of nucleosynthesis in a book he coauthored entitled Synthesis of the Elements in Stars. Starting with only hydrogen and helium created in the Big Bang, these lightest elements fused creating new atomic nuclei that eventually formed heavier elements. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar) in 1983 "for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe."

Fowler graduated from Ohio State University and earned his PhD in nuclear physics at the California Institute of Technology. He continued at CalTech as a research fellow and was appointed assistant professor in 1939. During World War II he conducted military research on the development of proximity fuses, which detonate only when close to a target. After the war he returned to CalTech, where he continued his research and was named an Institute Professor of Physics in 1970. He held that position until his retirement in 1982. He was the recipient of the National Medal of Science from President Gerald Ford in 1974.

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