Berkeley Lab physicist Edward Joseph Lofgren dies at 102

Berkeley Lab/Courtesy
Edward Lofgren at the Bevatron, 1957. Morgue 1958-9 (P-2)

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Edward Joseph Lofgren, a former physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who worked on the Manhattan Project, died Sept. 6 at the age of 102.

During World War II, Lofgren helped to develop ion sources for enriching uranium-235 and later worked on the detonator team for the atomic bomb. Lofgren then helped to develop the Bevatron, an early particle accelerator that enabled the discovery of antiparticles, advancing the early field of particle physics.

“He was an initiator and collaborator along with the scientists who actually wanted to do the science,” said Lee Schroeder, former nuclear science division director at Berkeley Lab. “He was the one who helped put the concept (of the Bevatron) together with other scientists and engineers and that led to science … such as the discovery of the antiproton.”

Lofgren began working on the Bevatron in 1949 as its chief physicist and oversaw its development, construction and operation. The accelerator “opened up the field of particle physics,” according to former colleague and friend Jose Alonso.

“All of the work around particle physics and the creation of the theoretical structure around it was deeply indebted to the demonstration of the existence of these antiparticles,” said campus professor of history Cathryn Carson.

The Bevatron changed the way scientists collaborated — enabling the beginning of “big science,” in which many engineers and scientists work on a single accelerator project.

“For the first time, large teams of researchers worked (together) to do experiments, whereas one or two people were doing experiments as a team before,” Alonso said. “(It started) industrial-scale physics.”

Lofgren also championed the modernization of the Bevatron to keep pace with other accelerators around the country. He and his partner spearheaded the machine’s eventual evolution in 1970 into the Bevalac — a high-energy accelerator that could work with heavy ions across the periodic table rather than just protons.

This upgrade created a new field of physics known as relativistic nuclear collisions. The field’s research “broadened the spectrum of possible applications,” according to Carson. Relativistic nuclear collisions have been used to develop radiotherapy for cancer patients and artificial radioactive isotopes for oil drilling.

Carson added that Lofgren’s history is “deeply entwined” with that of Berkeley Lab, where he also served for a time as the associate director.

“He … started with Lawrence as a team member in the 1930s, came back to help expand and realize more of his vision for particle accelerators and helped bring into being the lab as we know it today,” Carson said.

Lofgren is survived by three daughters, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Contact Katherine Yen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kyen_dc.