Biography:William Alfred Fowler

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Short description: American nuclear physicist (1911–1995)
William Alfred Fowler
William Alfred Fowler.jpg
Born(1911-08-09)August 9, 1911
DiedMarch 14, 1995(1995-03-14) (aged 83)
Pasadena, California
Other namesWilly Fowler
Alma materCaltech (PhD)
  • Medal for Merit (1948)
  • Barnard Medal for Meritorious Service to Science (1965)
  • Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics (1970)
  • Vetlesen Prize (1973)
  • National Medal of Science (1974)
  • Eddington Medal (1978)
  • Nobel Prize in Physics (1983)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorCharles Christian Lauritsen
Doctoral studentsJames M. Bardeen, J. Richard Bond, Donald Clayton, George M. Fuller, F. Curtis Michel

William Alfred Fowler (9 August 1911–14 March 1995) was an American nuclear physicist, later astrophysicist, who, with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is known for his theoretical and experimental research into nuclear reactions within stars and the energy elements produced in the process[1] and was one of the authors of the influential B2FH paper.

Early life

On 9 August 1911, Fowler was born in Pittsburgh. Fowler's parents were John MacLeod Fowler and Jennie Summers Watson. Fowler was the eldest of his siblings, Arthur and Nelda.[1][2]

The family moved to Lima, Ohio, a steam railroad town, when Fowler was two years old. Growing up near the Pennsylvania Railroad yard influenced Fowler's interest in locomotives. In 1973, he travelled to the Soviet Union just to observe the steam engine that powered the Trans-Siberian Railway plying the nearly 2,500-kilometre (1,600 mi) route that connects Khabarovsk and Moscow.[3]


In 1933, Fowler graduated from the Ohio State University, where he was a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. In 1936, Fowler received a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.[4][5]


In 1936, Fowler became a research fellow at Caltech. In 1939, Fowler became an assistant professor at Caltech.[4]

Although an experimental nuclear physicist, Fowler's most famous paper was "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars", coauthored with Cambridge cosmologist Fred Hoyle and in collaboration with two young Cambridge astronomers, Margaret Burbidge and Geoffrey Burbidge. That 1957 paper in Reviews of Modern Physics[6] categorized most nuclear processes for origin of all but the lightest chemical elements in stars. It is widely known as the B2FH paper.

In 1942, Fowler became an associate professor at Caltech. In 1946, Fowler became a Professor at Caltech.[4] Fowler, along with Lee A. DuBridge, Max Mason, Linus Pauling, and Bruce H. Sage, was awarded the Medal for Merit in 1948 by President Harry S. Truman.[7]

Fowler succeeded Charles Lauritsen as director of the W. K. Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at Caltech, and was himself later succeeded by Steven E. Koonin. Fowler was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford.[8]

Fowler won the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society in 1963, the Vetlesen Prize in 1973, the Eddington Medal in 1978, the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1979, and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 (shared with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar) for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe .[9][10]

Fowler's doctoral students at Caltech included Donald D. Clayton.[11]

Personal life

A lifelong fan of steam locomotives, Fowler owned several working models of various sizes.[12]

Fowler's first wife was Adriane Fay (née Olmsted) Fowler (1912–1988). They had two daughters, Mary Emily and Martha.[2][13]

In December 1989, Fowler married Mary Dutcher (1919–2019), an artist, in Pasadena, California.[2][13] On 11 March 1995, Fowler died from kidney failure in Pasadena, California. He was 83.[2][14]




  1. 1.0 1.1 Oakes, Elizabeth (2007). "Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Revised Edition" (in en). Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Revised Edition. New York City: Facts on File. p. 245. ISBN 9780816061587. Retrieved 2022-03-21. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "William Alfred Fowler, Nobel Prize for Physics, 1983" (in en). 
  3. Sidharth, B. G., ed (2008). A century of ideas: perspectives from leading scientists of the 20th century. Fundamental theories of physics. Dordrecht: Springer. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4020-4359-8. Retrieved 2022-03-21. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "William Alfred Fowler Biography" (in en). 
  5. Carey, Charles W. (2006). American scientists. American biographies. New York City: Facts on File. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-8160-5499-2. Retrieved 2022-03-21. 
  6. Burbidge, E. M.; Burbidge, G. R.; Fowler, W. A.; Hoyle, F. (1957). "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars". Reviews of Modern Physics 29 (4): 547–650. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.29.547. ISSN 0034-6861. OCLC 5975699. Bibcode1957RvMP...29..547B. 
  7. "Presidential Medal for Merit. February 2, 1948. - Published Papers and Official Documents - Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement" (in en). 
  8. "Photo Archive in Nuclear Astrophysics" (in en). 1999. 
  9. "William Alfred Fowler" (in en). 2021-07-07. 
  10. "William A. Fowler - Facts" (in en-US). 
  11. "Donald D. Clayton" (in en). 
  12. "Photo Archive in Nuclear Astrophysics" (in en). 1999. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Obituary: Mary Ditcher Fowler" (in en). 2019-07-13. 
  14. Dicke, William (1995-03-16). "William A. Fowler, 83, Astrophysicist, Dies" (in en-US). The New York Times: p. B14. ISSN 0362-4331. 

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