Chamberlain '41 dies at 85 years

by Christine Huggins | 3/3/06 6:00am

Chamberlain, an emeritus professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, shared the 1959 Nobel Prize for Physics with fellow researcher Emilio Segre for discovering the antiproton, the mysterious counterpart to the positively charged proton. Chamberlain's discovery fueled the development of the complicated field of experimental particle physics, which remains at the forefront of theoretical science.

Just six months ago, Berkeley held a symposium commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of his discovery.

"[Chamberlain] was an enormous presence not only because he succeeded in winning the Nobel Prize, but he was an excellent scientist and a great human being," Herbert Steiner, a colleague of Chamberlain at Berkeley, said.

Upon receiving his Dartmouth degree, Chamberlain enrolled in graduate school at Berkeley, but soon left to join the Manhattan Project. He was present at the first atomic bomb test, where he lost a $5 bet that it would not explode.

After World War II ended, Chamberlain went to the University of Chicago to continue his studies with Enrico Fermi, who won the Nobel Prize in 1938 and was considered one of the giants of science.

"Einstein was number one, but Fermi was not that far behind," Steiner said. "Chamberlain wanted to study with the best."

After receiving his Ph.D. at Chicago, Chamberlain returned to Berkeley in 1948, where he taught alongside Segre.

A graduate student at Berkeley during the 1950s, Steiner recalls that Chamberlain was very approachable and that students loved him.

"Chamberlain wanted to be called by his first name. We'd eat lunch with him and he'd explain things to us. He was one of the key people the students worked with," Steiner said.

While at Berkeley, Chamberlain also founded a scholarship program for underprivileged students.

"The scholarship has played a very important role in attracting a new group of people who wouldn't otherwise have been able to come to university," Steiner said.

Chamberlain was a social activist, particularly after visiting Hiroshima after World War II. He took part in free speech movement demonstrations in the 1960s, spoke out on race relations and campaigned for a nuclear test ban treaty. In the 1970s Chamberlain worked on the S.O.S. program in an attempt to help fellow scientists escape the Soviet Union.

He is survived by his wife and four children from a previous marriage.