Georges Charpak

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Dąbrowica, Poland
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Dąbrowica, Poland

Georges Charpak, a Polish-born French Nobel laureate physicist, is best known for developing subatomic particle detectors, particularly the multi-wire proportional chamber. His idea was groundbreaking because it altered the course of high-energy physics. By the 1990s, multiwire chambers had become so common that they were used in practically every particle physics experiment. His chamber was also starting to be used in medicine, biology, and industry. Two researchers who used Charpak’s innovation to discover subatomic occurrences got their Nobel Prizes years before he was given the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention. In addition to creating important scientific discoveries and inventions, Charpak had a long career in administration. He was a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and a professor-in-residence at the École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles in Paris.

Childhood and Adolescence

Jerzy Charpak was born in the Polish village of Dabrowica on August 1, 1924, to Anna and Maurice Charpak. His parents were both members of the Jewish faith. Andre Charpak, his brother, went on to become an actor and film director.

Charpak’s family moved from Poland to Paris when he was seven years old. In 1941, Charpak began his official schooling at the Lycee Saint Louis, where he studied mathematics. Following that, he attended the Lycee de Montpellier.

Charpak was a member of the resistance during WWII. Vichy officials imprisoned him in 1943. He was sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau the next year, where he remained until 1945.

Charpak resumed his studies after being liberated from the Nazi camp, enrolling in the Ecole des Mines, a famous engineering school in France, in 1945. He earned the French degree of Civil Engineer of Mines, which is comparable to a Master’s degree, three years later.

In 1949, after receiving his bachelor’s degree, Charpak enrolled at College de France to study under Frederic Joliot-Curie. He graduated from the College de France with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 1954. His thesis was about low radiation caused by nuclei breakup.

George Charpak’s Career

Charpak worked as a researcher for the National Center for Scientific Research while pursuing his Ph.D. (CNRS). He stayed at the company until 1959.
Charpak joined the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) staff in Geneva in 1959. He conducted the most important research and discovery of his life there.

Charpak took part in the first exact measurement of the muon’s magnetic momentum a year after arriving at CERN. The team revealed that the muon is simply a heavy electron, not a separate nuclear particle. From 1961 through 1967, he concentrated on the construction of several forms of non-photographic scintillating chambers.

He discovered and patented the multiwire proportional chamber in 1968. The chamber was essentially a modernized version of an older bubble chamber that had grown obsolete and outdated. Data processing was improved because to the new chamber. It also helped detect, evaluate, and record hundreds of millions of particles in a split second.

In the field of particle physics, Charpak’s creation of the multiwire proportional chamber proved revolutionary. Unlike its predecessors, such as the cloud chamber and the bubble chamber, which only captured one or two tracks per second, the multiwire chamber recorded up to one million tracks per second and sent the data immediately to a computer for analysis.

Furthermore, previous chambers relied on taking images of the tracks left by particles as they emerged from collisions, whereas Charpak’s chamber relied on tiny wires to catch electric pulses, resulting in more data.

Following his invention of the multiwire proportional chamber, Charpak, Ngoc, and Policarpo collaborated to develop the scintillation drift chamber in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, in 1974, he created spherical drift chambers for X-ray diffraction analyses of proteins.

Between 1979 and 1989, Charpak focused on multistage avalanche chambers. He was instrumental in the development of multistage avalanche chambers and the use of photon counters for ionizing radiation imaging.

Charpak worked at Fermilab in the United States from 1985 until 1991, near the end of his employment at CERN. He introduced luminous avalanche-based chambers. He was a key figure in the creation of b-ray imaging instrumentation for biological study.

Charpak used the concepts of his discovery in biology and medicine after receiving the Nobel Prize. His research led to the creation of a camera that NASA uses to monitor astronauts’ hearts. He also created an X-ray machine that emits a tenth of the radiation of a standard X-ray machine. He also researched strategies to reprogramme diseased cells to make them less carcinogenic.

Charpak had various administrative tasks in addition to his scientific research. He joined the École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles in Paris as a professor-in-residence in 1980. (ESPCI). In 1984, he held the Joliot-Curie Chair. He developed and showed powerful uses of the particle detectors he invented at the institute.

With Mathias Fink, Charpak co-founded a number of biomedical start-ups, including Molecular Engines Laboratories, Biospace Instruments, and SuperSonic Imagine. He was a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors.

In France, Charpak was a vocal supporter of nuclear power. He created a radon detector to aid with earthquake prediction. He had previously studied radiation in order to locate subsurface minerals.

Georges’s Major Projects

In 1968, Charpak created and developed the multi-wire proportional chamber, which became his most important contribution to particle physics. The chamber was unique at the time because it was light years ahead of its predecessors, the cloud chamber and the bubble chamber.

Unlike its predecessors, which only recorded one or two-particle tracks every second, the multi-wire chamber recorded up to one million tracks per second. Furthermore, it sent its data immediately to a computer for processing, avoiding the need for scientists to manually analyze hundreds of photos.

Achievements and Awards

Charpak was inducted into the French Academy of Sciences in 1985.
For his creation and development of particle detectors, particularly the multi-wire proportional chamber, Charpak was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1992.
Charpak received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, in March 2001.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1953, Charpak tied the knot with Dominique Vidal. Three children were born to the couple.
In 1946, Charpak became a naturalized French citizen.

On September 29, 2010, he passed away in Paris, France. At the time, he was 86 years old.

Estimated Net worth

The scientist is George’s main source of income. We now lack sufficient information about his family, relationships, childhood, and other aspects of his life. Net Worth Estimated for 2019 $1 Million.


Interestingly, two Nobel Prizes were given to scientists who used Charpak’s apparatus to identify subatomic occurrences before Charpak got his Nobel Prize for particle detectors.