Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

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The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is the oldest of the U.S Department of Energy’s National Laboratories. It was founded in 1931 by a physics professor named Ernest O. Lawrence, who’s work on the Cyclotron ushered in a modern era of multidisciplinary, team science. His projects, which strived towards bigger and better atom-smashing, required him to move his laboratory off the UC Campus and up to its current location on the north eastern Berkeley Hills.

Today, the lab’s $700 million annual budget is used to solve global problems in human health, technology, environment, and energy. It boasts having had twelve Nobel Laureates on staff over the years, and its multidisciplinary focus continues to make important advances in the world of science.


Ernest O. Lawrence left his faculty position at Yale in 1928 to begin working at the University of California Berkeley, where he developed the Cyclotron, which made him an important pioneer for the study of nuclear physics, and earned him a Nobel Prize in physics in 1939. While at Berkeley, Lawrence recruited from the physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, and medical departments to assemble a brilliant team of collaborators. The scale of the team’s goals for advancements in atom-smashing moved them to 200 acres of the Berkeley hills in 1931.

Lawrence then pushed for funding for a massive cyclotron-inspired particle accelerator, but the project had an estimated cost of approximately three-quarter of a million dollars. However, in 1939 the cyclotron concept was used to discover radioactive tritium and helium-3. These discoveries, along with Lawrence’s confidence and passion, persuaded Warren Weaver, director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Division of Natural Sciences, to give the project $1.4 million. The cyclotron was built on Charter hill, and its magnet weighed 4,500 tons.

The Lab was also intimately involved with the Manhattan Project, after the U.S government granted the lab $400,000 to investigate magnetic separation of weapons-grade Uranium-238 from -235. In 1942, the Manhattan Engineering District’s director Leslie Groves appointed Berkeley Lab’s theorist Robert Oppenheimer to head of a secret laboratory in New Mexico.

As the Manhattan project began to cease near the end of the war, Berkeley Lab finally reached its goal in 1946 of creating the massive “synchrocyclotron”, which produced the desired deuterons at 200 Mega Electron Volts.

Public Access

The Lab is located at 1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley CA 94720, and has its own shuttle service that runs to and from the BART Subway Station in downtown Berkeley. On weekdays,the shuttle provides free off-site service for both employees and visitors. Busses run every 10 minutes until 5:50pm. Tours are given one Friday per month and last from 10am-12:30pm. To register for one of the tour dates, visit for a list of dates and follow the registration instructions.


Bellis, Mary. "Ernest Lawrence - Cyclotron." Inventors., 05 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <>.

"Ernest Lawrence - Biographical". Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 22 Apr 2014.

Preuss, Paul. "An Historical Perspective on the Lab's Legacy: A Year-Long Series in The View." Lawrence Berkeley Lab. N.p., 2006. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <>.