Lew Kowarski

Lew KowarskiLew Kowarski (1907-1979)

Lew Kowarski was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 10, 1907. His father, Nicholas, was a businessman, and his mother, Olga Vlassenko, was a singer. He received a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Lyons in 1928. Kowarski went on to study physics, earning both his B. Sc. (1931) and D. Sc. (1935) degrees from the University of Paris. He became a naturalized French citizen on November 16, 1939.

Kowarski’s active work in nuclear physics began in 1937 under the direction of Jean Frédéric Joliot at the Collège de France. In 1939, Professor Joliot, Hans von Halban, and Kowarski formed a research team which performed the crucial experiments that established the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction. When war broke out in 1940, Kowarski and Halban fled to England under rather dramatic circumstances and continued their work at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.

Kowarski was responsible for the design and construction of the first nuclear reactor in Canada (1945), and the first two reactors in France (1948 and 1952). He also played a key role in the founding of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), and was named its first Director of Scientific and Technical Services in 1954. He was instrumental in developing CERN’s computer capacities and went on to create the Data Handling Division, which he directed until his retirement in 1972. During this same time, he served as scientific advisor to the European Nuclear Energy Agency.

Kowarski published well over 100 papers, mostly in English, ranging in style from technical to popular. He held visiting professorships at Purdue University (1963-66), University of Texas at Austin (1967-71), and Boston University (1972-78).

Kowarski was a frequent speaker at scientific conferences in the United States and Europe. It was his desire to link research and scientific diplomacy through his travel and lectures. Later in life he became increasingly interested in the interaction of science and society and advocated bringing current and reliable information on nuclear technology to the public.

The distinctions bestowed on Kowarski included: Fellow, American Nuclear Society (1963); Decorated Officer of the Legion of Honor (1964); and U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Citation Award (1968).

Kowarski married Dorothée (Dora) Heller in 1929. They had one daughter, Irène Denise (Mrs. Gérard Hacques), and divorced in 1947. He married Kathe A. Freundlich, July 23, 1948.

He died on July 30, 1979.


American Institute of Physics, www.aip.org/history/ead/19990073.html.