Berkeley Physics Bids Farewell to Nobel Prize Winner and Colleague

Last Sunday in the Great Room of the University of California at Berkeley Faculty club, the physics department held a memorial for Dr. Owen Chamberlain, physicist, activist and Nobel prize winner. Owen, who died on February 28th, 2006 after a long bout with Parkenson’s disease, was a protege and colleague of the late Dr. Emilio Segre, with whom he shared the 1959 Nobel prize in physics for their discovery of the antiproton.

Dr. Segre died in 1989 (the same year Owen retired) and the Berkeley physics department held a very nice memorial service for him as well. I suppose one reaches a “certain age” and memorial services start to appear on the calendar (don’t get me started with the ever-aging computer side of the business – one could end up going to funerals every month at this rate). My Berkeley physics advisor, Professor Frank Crawford, retired in 1991 and died in 2003 after also suffering from Parkinson’s for about a decade. While Dr. Crawford was known for his love of music, he had a bit of a rebellous streak, best exemplified by his “corrugohorn” – a length of flexible corrugated brass pipe that he turned into three basic horns: a bugle, a neck horn and a slide corrugohorn. He used to boast that he was the only member of the Berkeley physics faculty with a peddler’s license, and I think that is probably still true today.

Owen was a complicated man in a department known for strong personalities and beliefs. He was an activist involved in causes ranging from nuclear disarmament (he was one of the Manhattan Project boys and knew what it could really do) to free speech. He was one of the few people who dared to engage Dr. Teller in debate, because as Dr. Charles Morehouse recalled “Teller would drag everyone else around the stage”.

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