William Alfred Fowler
Born(1911-08-09)August 9, 1911
DiedMarch 14, 1995(1995-03-14) (aged 83)
Other namesWilly Fowler
Alma materOhio State University
Caltech (PhD)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorCharles Christian Lauritsen
Doctoral studentsJames M. Bardeen, J. Richard Bond, Donald Clayton, George M. Fuller, F. Curtis Michel, Arthur B. McDonald

William Alfred Fowler (August 9, 1911 – March 14, 1995) was an American nuclear physicist, later astrophysicist, who, with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, was awarded 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] and was one of the authors of the influential B2FH paper.

Early life

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

The family moved to Lima, Ohio, a steam railroad town, when Fowler was two years old. Growing up near the Pennsylvania Railroad yard influenced Fowler's interest in locomotives. In 1973, he travelled to the Soviet Union just to observe the steam engine that powered the Trans-Siberian Railway plying the nearly 2,500-kilometre (1,600 mi) 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. He was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1938.[6] In 1939, Fowler became an assistant professor at Caltech.[4]

Although an experimental nuclear physicist, Fowler's most famous paper was his collaboration with Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars" Significantly, Margaret Burbidge was first author, Geoffrey Burbidge second, Fowler third, and Cambridge cosmologist Fred Hoyle. That 1957 paper in Reviews of Modern Physics[7] categorized most nuclear processes for origin of all but the lightest chemical elements in stars. It is widely known as the B2FH paper. Though the theory of Stellar Nucleosynthesis established in the paper was later cited by the Nobel Committee as the reason for his 1983 Nobel in Physics, Margaret Burbidge did not share in the award.

In 1942, Fowler became an associate professor at Caltech. In 1946, Fowler became a Professor at Caltech.[4] Fowler, along with Lee A. DuBridge, Max Mason, Linus Pauling, and Bruce H. Sage, was awarded the Medal for Merit in 1948 by President Harry S. Truman.[8]

Fowler succeeded Charles Lauritsen as director of the W. K. 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.[9]

Fowler was Guggenheim Fellow at St John's College, Cambridge in 1962–63. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1962,[10] won the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society in 1963, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1965,[11] won 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 (shared with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar) for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe .[12][13]

Fowler's doctoral students at Caltech included Donald D. Clayton.[14]

Personal life

A lifelong fan of steam locomotives, Fowler owned several working models of various sizes.[15]

Fowler's first wife was Adriane Fay (née Olmsted) Fowler (1912–1988). They had two daughters, Mary Emily and Martha.[2][16]

In December 1989, Fowler married Mary Dutcher (1919–2019), an artist, in Pasadena, California.[2][16] On 11 March 1995, Fowler died from kidney failure in Pasadena, California. He was 83.[2][17]




  1. ^ a b Oakes, Elizabeth (2007). Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Revised Edition. New York City: Facts on File. p. 245. ISBN 9780816061587. LCCN 2007006076. Retrieved 2022-03-21 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b c d "William Alfred Fowler, Nobel Prize for Physics, 1983". Geni.com. 9 August 1911. Archived from the original on 2021-07-25. Retrieved 2019-07-20.
  3. ^ Sidharth, B. G., ed. (2008). A century of ideas: perspectives from leading scientists of the 20th century. Fundamental theories of physics. Dordrecht: Springer. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4020-4359-8. LCCN 2008923553. Retrieved 2022-03-21 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ a b c "William Alfred Fowler Biography". Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory. Archived from the original on 2016-07-02. Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  5. ^ Carey, Charles W. (2006). American scientists. American biographies. New York City: Facts on File. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-8160-5499-2. LCCN 2005000683. Retrieved 2022-03-21 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ "Alfred Fowler". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 2022-11-16.
  7. ^ 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. ISSN 0034-6861. LCCN 31021290. OCLC 5975699.
  8. ^ "Presidential Medal for Merit. February 2, 1948. - Published Papers and Official Documents - Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement". Oregon State University. Archived from the original on 2018-07-18. Retrieved 2022-02-26.
  9. ^ "Photo Archive in Nuclear Astrophysics". Clemson University. 1999. Archived from the original on 2018-01-29. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  10. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-11-16.
  11. ^ "William Alfred Fowler". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-11-16.
  12. ^ "William Alfred Fowler". Sonoma State University. 2021-07-07. Archived from the original on 2022-02-15. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  13. ^ "William A. Fowler - Facts". Nobel Prize. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  14. ^ "Donald D. Clayton". Caltech. Archived from the original on 2022-03-21. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  15. ^ "Photo Archive in Nuclear Astrophysics". Clemson University. 1999. Archived from the original on 2020-11-25. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  16. ^ a b Written at Auburn, Maine. "Obituary: Mary Ditcher Fowler". Lewiston Sun Journal. Lewiston, Maine. 2019-07-13. OCLC 1058326012. Archived from the original on 2021-01-22. Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  17. ^ Dicke, William (1995-03-16). "William A. Fowler, 83, Astrophysicist, Dies". The New York Times. p. B14. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-14.