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Edward Lofgren, physicist who built early particle accelerator, dies at 102

A pioneering physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who helped build a key tool for studying the universe and played a role in the project that created the first atomic bomb has died, a lab official said Thursday. 

Edward Joseph Lofgren led the development, construction and operation of the Bevatron, an early particle accelerator at the lab. A giant machine that smashes atoms, it was used to find the antiproton, a discovery that led to a Nobel Prize. This research helped scientists study how today's universe was created and grew. 

Lofgren also was involved in the Manhattan Project, the federal government's successful effort to build an atomic bomb. 

Lofgren died in Oakland on Sept. 6, lab spokesman Glenn Roberts Jr. said. He was 102. 

Before his retirement in 1979, Lofgren also served as associate laboratory director, and he was the first director of the newly formed accelerator division. 

Born Jan. 18, 1914, and the youngest of seven in a family of Swedish immigrants, he moved to Los Angeles at age 13. He later enrolled at UC Berkeley, arriving by bus with two suitcases and $200. He had read about and become increasingly interested in its Radiation Laboratory and the cyclotron developments there. 

He earned an undergraduate degree in 1938 and then enrolled as a graduate student. In 1940 he joined the Radiation Laboratory's staff as a research assistant. One of his duties was assisting in the development of techniques for medical isotope production. 

Lofgren left his studies to become a full-time employee of the Radiation Lab and led development of the ion sources for the Calutron. He spent much of the early war years in Oak Ridge, Tenn., assisting in the development of the Calutron farm there to enrich uranium-235 for the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bomb, according to friend and former colleague Jose Alonso. 

Lofgren moved in fall 1944 to Los Alamos, N.M., where he joined a group working on detonators for the atomic bomb, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website.

He earned his doctorate from UC Berkeley in June 1946. 

Alonso, who worked for Lofgren for five years but knew him for more than 40 years, said that even a week before his death his innate interest in the world hadn't faltered. Alonso recalled how Lofgren was explaining how San Francisco fog was generated and why it was there. 

“He was always wanting to teach,” Alonso said. 

Lofgren is survived by his three daughters: Helen Lofgren, Laurel Phillipson and Claire Lofgren; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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