Lew Kowarski

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Lew Kowarski (1942) Lew Kowarski 1942.jpg
Lew Kowarski (1942)

Lew Kowarski (10 February 1907, Saint Petersburg – 30 July 1979, Geneva) was a naturalized French physicist. He was a lesser-known but important contributor to nuclear science.

Saint Petersburg Federal city in Northwestern Federal Okrug, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.

Geneva Large city in Switzerland

Geneva is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous city of Romandy, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Situated where the Rhône exits Lake Geneva, it is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.


Early life

Lew Kowarski was born in Saint Petersburg to Nicholas Kowarski, a businessman and the Ukrainian singer Olga Vlassenko. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, when Lew was 12 years old, his family fled west under adventurous circumstances and settled in Vilnius (then in Poland). During his youth, Lew was a talented musician and considered a music career; however, his fingers grew too large for the keyboard.

Vilnius City in Lithuania

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city, with a population of 574,147 as of 2018. Vilnius is in the southeast part of Lithuania and is the second largest city in the Baltic states. Vilnius is the seat of the main government institutions of Lithuania and the Vilnius District Municipality. Vilnius is classified as a Gamma global city according to GaWC studies, and is known for the architecture in its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Before World War II, Vilnius was one of the largest Jewish centres in Europe. Its Jewish influence has led to it being described as the "Jerusalem of Lithuania" and Napoleon named it "the Jerusalem of the North" as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with the Austrian city of Linz.


He received a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Lyon and an Sc.B. and Ph.D. from the University of Paris where he carried out research on neutron counting.

Lyon Prefecture and commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Lyon is the third-largest city and second-largest urban area of France. It is located in the country's east-central part at the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône, about 470 km (292 mi) south from Paris, 320 km (199 mi) north from Marseille and 56 km (35 mi) northeast from Saint-Étienne. Inhabitants of the city are called Lyonnais.

Neutron nucleon (constituent of the nucleus of the atom) that has neutral electric charge (no charge); symbol n

The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol
, with no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behave similarly within the nucleus, and each has a mass of approximately one atomic mass unit, they are both referred to as nucleons. Their properties and interactions are described by nuclear physics.

Research during World War II

He joined Frédéric Joliot-Curie's group in 1934, where Hans von Halban came in 1937. They established in 1939 the possibility of nuclear chain reactions [1] and nuclear energy production. While doing their research, the events of World War II forced them to eventually move to England, bringing with them the world's entire stock of heavy water, given on loan by Norway to France so that it would not fall into German hands. They continued their research at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge for the MAUD Committee, part of the wartime Tube Alloys project.

Frédéric Joliot-Curie French scientist

Jean Frédéric Joliot-Curie, born Jean Frédéric Joliot, was a French physicist, husband of Irène Joliot-Curie with whom he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Hans von Halban French physicist

Hans Heinrich von Halban was a French physicist, of Austrian-Jewish descent.

Nuclear chain reaction one single nuclear reaction causes more subsequent nuclear reactions

A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one single nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more subsequent nuclear reactions, this leading to the possibility of a self-propagating series of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes. The nuclear chain reaction releases several million times more energy per reaction than any chemical reaction.

Just before the invasions, the records and papers of Frédéric Joliot, Hans Halban and Lew Kowarski were smuggled out of France, and eventually to England. Included in this operation were 26 drums of heavy water, the world’s entire stock at the time. Some of the papers written by Halban and Kowarski were deposited at the Royal Society in the UK, where they were sealed with a note from James Chadwick, dated December 18, 1941, that said, “The paper is such that it would be inadvisable to publish it at the present time.” The papers described the outline of a design for a nuclear fission reactor. [2]

Heavy water is a form of water that contains a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium, rather than the common hydrogen-1 isotope that makes up most of the hydrogen in normal water. The presence of deuterium gives the water different nuclear properties, and the increase of mass gives it slightly different physical and chemical properties when compared to normal water.

Royal Society English learned society for science

The President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society, is a learned society. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society is the United Kingdom's and Commonwealth of Nations' Academy of Sciences and fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.

James Chadwick English physicist

Sir James Chadwick, was a British physicist who was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the neutron in 1932. In 1941, he wrote the final draft of the MAUD Report, which inspired the U.S. government to begin serious atomic bomb research efforts. He was the head of the British team that worked on the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. He was knighted in Britain in 1945 for his achievements in physics.

Kowarski then worked in the Montreal Laboratory in Canada, but only after Halban had been replaced as Director by John Cockcroft, as he did not want to work under Halban. He supervised the construction of Canada's first nuclear reactor (ZEEP) at the Chalk River Laboratories in 1945.

Montreal Laboratory

The Montreal Laboratory in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, was established by the National Research Council of Canada during World War II to undertake nuclear research in collaboration with the United Kingdom, and to absorb some of the scientists and work of the Tube Alloys nuclear project in Britain. It became part of the Manhattan Project, and designed and built some of the world's first nuclear reactors.

John Cockcroft British physicist

Sir John Douglas Cockcroft, was a British physicist who shared with Ernest Walton the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951 for splitting the atomic nucleus, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power.

ZEEP Canadian nuclear reactor

The ZEEP reactor was a nuclear reactor built at the Chalk River Laboratories near Chalk River, Ontario, Canada. ZEEP first went critical at 15:45 on September 5, 1945. ZEEP's was the first operational nuclear reactor outside the United States.

Post war research

He came back to France to supervise the first two French reactors in 1948 and 1952. A staff member of CERN (Geneva) since participating in its formation in 1953, [3] [4] he was a Decorated Officer Legion of Honor, Fellow of the American Nuclear Society, and a recipient of citation and prize from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. After his retirement in 1972, he was a University Professor at Boston University, focusing on the interaction between Science and Mankind. [5]

Recently discovered documents

In 1940, James Chadwick forwarded the work of two French scientists, Hans von Halban and Kowarski, who worked in Cambridge, to the Royal Society. He asked that the papers be held, as they were not appropriate for publication during the war. In 2007, the Society discovered the documents during an audit of their archives. [6] The documents describe how to control the chain reaction, describe the components of a nuclear reactor, and describe how to produce plutonium.

See also

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  1. H. von Halban, F. Joliot and L. Kowarski, Nature 143 (1939) 470 and 680.
  2. Cohen, David. 2007. “Secret Fission Papers were too Hot to Handle.” New Scientist. Issue 2607, June 11, 2007, page 10.
  3. "Snapshots from the early days". CERN Courier. May 2014.
  4. "Who's who in Cern: Lew Kowarski: leader, data handling division". CERN Courier. 2 (5): 3. May 1962.
  5. How it All Began in Canada - The Role of the French Scientists Archived 2003-03-13 at the Wayback Machine ., Bertrand Goldschmidt
  6. BBC Article about discovered documents