William Alfred Fowler

William Alfred Fowler (August 9, 1911 March 14, 1995) was an American nuclear physicist, later astrophysicist, who, with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is known for his theoretical and experimental research into nuclear reactions within stars and the energy elements produced in the process.[1]

William Alfred Fowler
Born(1911-08-09)August 9, 1911
DiedMarch 14, 1995(1995-03-14) (aged 83)
Other namesWilly Fowler
Alma materCaltech (PhD)
AwardsBarnard Medal for Meritorious Service to Science (1965)
Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics (1970)
Vetlesen Prize (1973)
National Medal of Science (1974)
Eddington Medal (1978)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1983)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorCharles Christian Lauritsen
Doctoral studentsJ. Richard Bond, Donald Clayton, F. Curtis Michel

Early life

On August 9, 1911, Fowler was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fowler's parents were John MacLeod Fowler and Jennie Summers Watson. Fowler was the eldest of his siblings, Arthur and Nelda.[2][1]

The family moved to Lima, Ohio, a steam railroad town, when Fowler was two years old. Growing up near the Pennsylvania Railway Yard influenced Fowler's interest in locomotives. Later in 1973, he would travel to the USSR just to observe the steam engine that powered the Trans Siberian Railway plying the nearly 2,500-kilometer route that connects Khabarovsk and Moscow.[3]


In 1933, Fowler graduated from the Ohio State University, where he was a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. In 1936, Fowler received a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.[4][5]


In 1936, Fowler became a research fellow at Caltech. In 1939, Fowler became an assistant professor at Caltech.[4]

Although an experimental nuclear physicist, Fowler's most famous paper was "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars", coauthored with Cambridge cosmologist Fred Hoyle and in collaboration with two young Cambridge astronomers, E. Margaret Burbidge and Geoffrey Burbidge. That 1957 paper in Reviews of Modern Physics[6] categorized most nuclear processes for origin of all but the lightest chemical elements in stars. It is widely known as the B2FH paper.

In 1942, Fowler became an associate professor at Caltech. In 1946, Fowler became a Professor at Caltech. [4]

Fowler succeeded Charles Lauritsen as director of the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at Caltech, and was himself later succeeded by Steven E. Koonin. Fowler was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford.[7]

Fowler won the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society in 1963, the Vetlesen Prize in 1973, the Eddington Medal in 1978, the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1979, and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe (shared with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar).[8][9]

Fowler was the doctoral advisor at Caltech for Donald D. Clayton, who became the leader of the next generation of nuclear astrophysics and who in 2000 was elected Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Personal life

A lifelong fan of steam locomotives, Fowler owned several working models of various sizes.[10]

Fowler's first wife was Adriane Fay (née Olmstead) Fowler (1912-1988). They had two daughters, Mary Emily and Martha.[2][11]

In December 1989, Fowler married Mary Dutcher (1919-2019), an artist, in Pasadena, California.[2][11]

On March 11, 1995, Fowler died from kidney failure in Pasadena, California. He was 83.[2][12]




  1. Oakes, Elizabeth (2007). Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Revised Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 245. ISBN 9780816061587.
  2. "William Alfred Fowler, Nobel Prize for Physics, 1983". geni.com. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  3. Sidharth, B. G. (2008). A Century of Ideas: Perspectives from Leading Scientists of the 20th Century. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 19. ISBN 9781402043598.
  4. "William Alfred Fowler Biography". ldeo.columbia.edu. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  5. Carey, Jr., Charles (2006). American Scientists. New York: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 120. ISBN 0816054991.
  6. Burbidge, E. M.; Burbidge, G. R.; Fowler, W. A.; Hoyle, F. (1957). "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars". Reviews of Modern Physics. 29 (4): 547–650. Bibcode:1957RvMP...29..547B. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.29.547.
  7. http://www.clemson.edu/ces/astro/NucleoArchive/PhotoList/1970s/75WAF_Pres.html
  8. "The Bruce Medalists: William A. Fowler". www.phys-astro.sonoma.edu. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  9. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1983". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  10. http://www.clemson.edu/ces/astro/NucleoArchive/PhotoList/1970s/71Train.html
  11. "Obituary: Mary Ditcher Fowler". sunjournal.com. July 13, 2019. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  12. Dicke, William (1995-03-16). "William A. Fowler, 83, Astrophysicist, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
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