Luis Walter Alvarez was born on June 13, 1911 in San Francisco, California.
Luis Alvarez studied at the University of Chicago, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 1932, a Master of Science in 1934 and a Ph.D in 1936.
Early research by Luis Alvarez were in the field of radioactive elements and already in 1932 he built a Geiger counter to use as a cosmic rays telescope.
During World War II Luis Alvarez worked mainly in the field of radar, building various innovative devices: the most famous is the Ground Controlled Approach system that allows a ground operator to guide the landing of an airplane. For this invention, used for many years and used in some countries even today, Alvarez was awarded the Collier Trophy, the most prestigious prize in aviation.
During the last years of World War II Luis Alvarez worked on the American nuclear program with Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer, also to spy on the Germans for any possible progress in that field.
After the war Luis Alvarez became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley where he developed new ideas to improve particle accelerators but also on other types of devices for research in physics.
Luis Alvarez’s research led to the development of new instruments by which it was possible to photograph interactions between particles, measure and analyze those interactions and to discover entire new families of particles and resonance states. It was for this work that Alvarez received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1968.
Luis Alvarez applied his ingenuity to the field of archeology devising a system of analysis of cosmic rays which allowed the identification of hidden chambers in the Egyptian pyramids.
After the murder of John Kennedy several images from the film taken by Abraham Zapruder were published and Luis Alvarez applied his knowledge of optics and photoanalysis to establish the consistency of the movie with the possibility that only Lee Oswald had shot the president.
Curiously Luis Alvarez became famous worldwide for his work done together with his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, on the extinction of the dinosaurs. During his research in Italy on the geological layer that marked the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary, Walter Alvarez found a concentration of iridium much higher than normal.
Luis Alvarez suggested that the iridium could come from an asteroid or a comet, where you can find it in greater concentation. The fact that such element was found in other countries in the same geological layer led Alvarez father and son to conceive the theory of the dinosaur extinction due to the impact of an asteroid. Initially that theory provoked much heated debate among scientists but today it has become the most accepted.
Luis Alvarez died on September 1, 1988. During his life he was married twice and had two children from each of his wives.
Luis Alvarez was a brilliant physicist capable not only of theoretical research but also to create instruments for research leading to great progress in various fields of science.