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Spotlight on Los Alamos: Louis Rosen: Father of the linear accelerator

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By Carol A. Clark

Senior Laboratory Fellow Emeritus Louis Rosen led the way at Los Alamos National Laboratory in developing the world’s most powerful linear accelerator, which cemented the laboratory’s leadership role in nuclear physics.The linear accelerator first powered up in summer 1972. When it reached full energy, it generated pulses of 800-million-electron-volt protons at a repetition rate of up to 120 per second and an average current of one milliampere.Rosen’s renowned scientific efforts led to the construction of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF) at LANL, which is known today as the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE). He served as director of the facility from its inception to 1986.With the end of the Cold War, the Department of Energy’s Office of Defense Programs determined that LANSCE would be an important element of its science-based stockpile stewardship program. Rosen’s wartime work in neutron cross-section measurements and nuclear test diagnostics continues on today through new generations of scientists.In 1997, LANL dedicated the Louis Rosen Auditorium in honor of the highly accomplished scientist.Rosen recounts details of his historical life, including his interactions with China and the Soviet Union, in a three-part series, “Behind the White Coat: Conversations with Los Alamos Scientists,” set to air at 8 p.m. March 3, 7 p.m. March 5 and noon March 6 on PAC 8 TV.“My contribution to international good will was made possible by LAMPF,” said Rosen during a taping at his Los Alamos home earlier this month. “LAMPF contributed to reducing international tension by extending a hand of friendship and a channel of communication.”Rosen joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in 1944 and held various positions from group leader to division leader and LAMPF director. He remained at LANL after the war and led the way in developing the linear accelerator. During that time, he worked on the technology of assembling materials with sufficient rapidity to surmount the problem of pre-detonation. Rosen also investigated the attenuation of electromagnetic signals by high explosives.Born June 10, 1918, in New York City Rosen received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama, and his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University; he later taught at both universities.Rosen is a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.Among the many honors received during his career, in 1963, Rosen won the prestigious E. O. Lawrence Award for his work developing new experimental techniques to better understand the atomic nucleus. His innovations also led to more effective methods in weapons behavior diagnosis. He also received the Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2002, Rosen received the Los Alamos National Laboratory Medal, the highest award the laboratory bestows upon individuals.