William Alfred Fowler

William Alfred Fowler


Date of Birth
August 9, 1911
Date of Death
March 14, 1995

“Willy” Fowler earned his B.S. in engineering physics at Ohio State University and his Ph.D. in nuclear physics at the California Institute of Technology, where he remained for the rest of his life, aside from frequent visits to the University of Cambridge. For decades he investigated the nuclear reactions believed to occur in stellar interiors. He and his colleagues and successors at Caltech’s Kellogg Radiation Laboratory measured the rates of nearly all nuclear reactions of astrophysical interest. He coauthored, with Margaret BurbidgeGeoffrey Burbidge, and Fred Hoyle, the famous 1957 paper, “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars,” known as B2FH. They showed how the cosmic abundances of essentially all but the lightest nuclides could be explained as the result of nuclear reactions in stars. After 1964 Fowler worked on theoretical problems involving supernovae, gravitational collapse, neutrinos, formation of light elements, and nucleocosmochronology.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Mercury 8, 75 (1979).

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1963.
Vetlesen Foundation, Vetlesen Prize, 1973
Legion d’Honneur, 1989.
National Science Foundation, National Medal of Science, 1974.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Jansky Lectureship, 1988.
Nobel Foundation, Nobel prize, physics, 1983.
Royal Astronomical Society, Eddington medal, 1978.

Some offices held

American Physical Society, President, 1976.

Biographical materials

Caltech Archives, Biography accompanying Fowler’s papers
Clayton, Donald D., Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 382-84.
Fowler, William A., Autobiography on receipt of Nobel Prize.
Fowler, William A., “From Steam to Stars in the Early Universe,” Annual Review of Astronomy & Astrophysics 30, 1-9 (1992).


Barnes, Charles A., Physics Today 48, 9, 116-18 (1995) (see also letter on p. 124.)
Burbidge, GeoffreyQJRAS 37, 89-90 (1996).
Clayton, D. J. , PASP 108, 1-7 (1996).
Hoyle, FredNature 374, 406 (1995).
Woosley, Stan, Bull. American Astron. Soc. 27, 1475-77 (1995).
More obituaries


Caltech Archives [many]
AIP Center for History of Physics
Clemson University, Photo Archive in Nuclear Astrophysics [includes many candid shots with others].
Sonoma State University, speaking 31 March 1986 (photo by JST)

Named after him

Minor Planet #12137 Williefowler


Papers, etc.

Papers, several oral history interviews, and many photographs are at the Caltech Archives. A lengthy 1983-86 series of oral history interviews is available online. The AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives has five oral history interviews of Fowler.

Other References: Historical

Barnes, Charles A., D.D. Clayton, D.N. Schramm, Essays in Nuclear Astrophysics: Presented to William A. Fowler, on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982).

Clayton, Donald D., Catch a Falling Star: A Life Discovering Our Universe (iUniverse, Bloomington, IN, 2009) [website].

Greenberg, John, “A Conversation with William A. Fowler,” Physics in Perspective 7, 66-106 (2005) and 7, 165-203 (2005) [a shortened version of the interviews at Caltech Archives cited above under Papers, etc.]

Hargittai, Balazs & István Hargittai, Candid Science V (Imperial College Press, London, 2005) [contains interview with Fowler].

Hoyle, FredHome is Where the Wind Blows: Chapters from a Cosmologist’s Life (University Science Books, 1994).

Wallerstein, George, et al, “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars: Forty Years of Progress,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 69, 995-1084 (1997).

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Other References: Scientific

Crane, H.R., L.A. Delsasso, W.A. Fowler, & C.C. Lauritsen, “High Energy Gamma-Rays from Lithium and Fluorine Bombarded with Protons,” Phys. Rev. 46, 531-33 (1934).

Fowler, W.A., L.A. Delsasso, & C.C. Lauritsen, “Radioactive Elements of Low Atomic Number,” Phys. Rev. 49, 561-74 (1936).

Fowler, W.A. & Jacquenette Oppenheimer, “Scattering and Loss of Energy of Fast Electrons and Positrons in Lead,” Phys. Rev. 54, 320-24 (1938).

Lauritsen, Tom, C.C. Lauritsen, & W.A. Fowler, “Application of a Pressure Electrostatic Generator to the Transmutation of Light Elements by Protons,” Phys. Rev. 59, 241-52 (1941).

Fowler, W.A., C.C. Lauritsen, & T. Lauritsen, “Gamma-Radiation from Excited States of Light Nuclei,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 20, 236-77 (1948).

Tollestrup, A.V., F.A. Jenkins, W.A. Fowler, & C.C. Lauritsen, “Neutron-Hydrogen Mass Difference from the D - D Reactions,” Phys. Rev. 75, 1947-48 (1949).

Fowler, W.A. & C.C. Lauritsen, “Gamma-Radiation from Light Nuclei under Proton Bombardment,” Phys. Rev. 76, 314-15 (1949).

Tollestrup, A.V., W.A. Fowler, & C.C. Lauritsen, “Energy Release in Beryllium and Lithium Reactions with Protons,” Phys. Rev. 76, 428-30 (1949).

Fowler, W.A., C.C. Lauritsen, & A.V. Tollestrup, “Investigations of the Capture of Protons and Deuterons by Deuterons,” Phys. Rev. 76, 1767-68 (1949).

Hall, Robert Noel & William Alfred Fowler, “The Cross Section for the Radiative Capture of Protons by C12 near 100 Kev,” Phys. Rev. 77, 197-204 (1950).

Hornyak, W.F., T. Lauritsen, P. Morrison, & W.A. Fowler, “Energy Levels of Light Nuclei. III,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 22, 291-372 (1950).

Fowler, W.A., G. R. Burbidge, & E. Margaret Burbidge, “Stellar Evolution and the Synthesis of the Elements,” Ap.J. 122, 271 (1955).

Baade, W., et al, “Supernovae and Californium 254,” PASP 68, 296 (1956).

Fowler, William A., & Jesse L. Greenstein, “Element-Building Reactions in Stars,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 42, 173-80 (1956).

Cook, C.W., W.A. Fowler, C.C. Lauritsen, and T. Lauritsen, “B12, C12, and the Red Giants,” Phys. Rev. 107, 508-15 (1957).

Burbidge, E. MargaretGeoffrey R. Burbidge, William A. Fowler, and Fred Hoyle, “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 29, 547-650 (1957) [The famous B2FH paper].

Fowler, W.A., “Temperature and Density Conditions for Nucleogenesis by Fusion Processes in Stars,” DOE Technical Report, June 1958.

Hoyle, F. & William A. Fowler, “Nucleosynthesis in Supernovae,” Ap.J. 132, 565-90 (1960) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525, 898 (1999) with a modern commentary by S.E. Woosley].

Wasserburg, G.J., William A. Fowler, & Hoyle, F., “Duration of Nucleosynthesis,” Phys. Rev. Letters 4, 112-114 (1960).

Fowler, William A., Jesse L. Greenstein, & Fred Hoyle, “Nucleosynthesis during the Early History of the Solar System, ” Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 6, 148-220 (1962).

Bahcall, J. N.; William A. Fowler, I. Iben, Jr., & R.L. Sears, “Solar Neutrino Flux,” Ap.J. 137, 344-46 (1963).

Fowler, William A. & F. Hoyle, “On the Nature of Strong Radio Sources,” MNRAS 125, 169-76 (1963).

Fowler, William A., “Massive Stars, Relativistic Polytropes, and Gravitational Radiation,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 36, 545-55 (1964) [erratum].

Hoyle, F., William A. Fowler, G.R. Burbidge & E. Margaret Burbidge, “On Relativistic Astrophysics,” Ap.J. 139, 909-28 (1964).

Caughlan, Georgeanne R. & William A. Fowler, “Combined Hydrogen and Helium Burning in the Core of a Population II Red-Giant Star,” Ap.J. 139, 1180-94 (1964).

Fowler, William A. & F. Hoyle, “Neutrino Processes and Pair Formation in Massive Stars and Supernovae,” Ap.J. Supp. 9, 201-319 (1964).

Fowler, William A. & Fred HoyleNucleosynthesis in Massive Stars and Supernovae (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965).

Fowler, William A., E. Margaret Burbidge,G.R. Burbidge & Fred Hoyle, “The Synthesis and Destruction of Elements in Peculiar Stars of Types A and B,” Ap.J. 142, 423-50 (1965).

Seeger, Philip A., William A. Fowler, & Donald D. Clayton, “Nucleosynthesis of Heavy Elements by Neutron Capture,” Ap.J. Supp. 11, 121-66 (1965).

Fowler, William A., “The Stability of Supermassive Stars,” Ap.J. 144, 180 ( 1966).

Fowler, William A., Georgeanne R. Caughlan, & Barbara A. Zimmerman, “Thermonuclear Reaction Rates,” Ann. Rev. Astr. Astophys. 5, 525-70 (1967).

Wagoner, Robert V., William A, Fowler., & F. Hoyle, ”“On the Synthesis of Elements at Very High Temperatures,” Ap.J. 148, 3 (1967).

Shaviv, Giora, John N. Bahcall, & William A. Fowler, “Dependence of the 8B Solar Neutrino Flux on the Rate of the Reaction 3He(3He,2p)4He,” Ap.J. 150, 725-28 (1967).

Reeves, Hubert, Jean Audouze, William A. Fowler, & David N. Schramm, “On the Origin of Light Elements,” Ap.J. 179, 909-30 (1973).

Fowler, William A., Georgeanne R. Caughlan, & Barbara A. Zimmerman, “Thermonuclear Reaction Rates, II,” Ann. Rev. Astr. Astrophys. 13, 69-112 (1975).

Colgate, Stirling A., Jean Audouze, & William A. Fowler, “Possible interpretations of the Isotopic Composition of Hydrogen and Helium in Solar Cosmic Rays,” Ap.J. 213, 849-60 (1977).

Mathews, G.J., A. Mengoni, F.-K. Thielemann, & William A. Fowler, “Neutron Capture Rates in the r-Process - The Role of Direct Radiative Capture, ” Ap.J. 270, 740-47 (1983).

Harris, Michael J., William A. Fowler, Georgeanne R. Caughlan, & Barbara A. Zimmerman, “Thermonuclear Reaction Rates, III,” Ann. Rev. Astr. Astrophys. 21, 165-76 (1983).

Fowler, William A., “The Age of the Observable Universe (The Tenth Edward Arthur Milne Lecture),” QJRAS 28, 87-108 (1987).

Rolfs, Claus E. & Rodney, William S., Cauldrons in the Cosmos: Nuclear Astrophysics (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1988).

Caughlan, Georgeanne R. & William A. Fowler, “Thermonuclear Reaction Rates,” Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1988.

Sackmann, I.-Juliana, Arnold I. Boothroyd, & William A. Fowler, “Our Sun. I - The Standard Model: Successes and Failures,” Ap.J. 360, 727-36 (1990).

Kawayno, L.H., W.A. Fowler, R.W. Kavanagh, & R.A. Malaney, “Signatures of Inhomogeneity in the Early Universe,” Ap.J. 372, 1-7 (1991).

Boothroyd, Arnold I., I.-Juliana Sackmann, & William A. Fowler, “Our Sun. II. Early Mass Loss of 0.1 Solar Mass and the Case of the Missing Lithium,” Ap.J. 377,318-29 (1991).

Fowler, William A., “Nuclear Reactions in Inhomogeneous Cosmologies,” Physics Reports 227, 313-19 (1993).

Fowler, W.A., “The Age of the Observable Universe,” in Hermann Bondi and Miranda Weston-Smith, eds., The Universe Unfolding (Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1998).

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Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, etc.

Fowler, William A.., “Nuclear Clues to the Early History of the Solar System,” Leaflets of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 9, 81-88 (1963) [Leaflet #411].

Fowler, William A., Nuclear Astrophysics (American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1967).

Fowler, W. A., “Experimental and Theoretical Nuclear Astrophysics: The Quest for the Origin of the Elements,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 56, 149-79 (1984). Also available at the Nobel website [Nobel lecture].