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wasserburg in lab

Gerald J. Wasserburg, 1995. (Photo ID GJW162.9-4)


In the News

Wasserburg (1927-2016) came to Caltech in 1955. His papers document his groundbreaking science but also the scientific culture of Caltech during his active years.

Gerald J. Wasserburg (left) with the
King Carl VII of Sweden on the occasion of the awarding of the Crafoord Prize in 1986. (Photo ID GJW162.11-2)

From 1955 on, with the founding of the new discipline of geochemistry, to the emergence of planetary science, to close collaboration with NASA on the Apollo missions and lunar samples, Wasserburg was a driving force inside the lab and outside.

His working group, the Lunatic Asylum, gained national notoriety, not least for its name, but principally for its imaginative techniques in the analysis of lunar and planetary rocks.


Crafoord medal
Crafoord medal with the name of Gerald Wasserburg.
(Photo ID GJW162.11-13)


With his invention of the first computer-controlled mass spectrometer, Lunatic I, and later sophisticated instruments, Wasserburg was able to establish a time scale for the development of the early solar system, including the end of the process of nucleosynthesis and the formation of solid objects such as planets, moons, and meteorites about 4500 million years ago.


Gerald Wasserburg at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, where he received an honorary degree in 1986.
(Photo ID GJW162.17-5)

His research also encompassed earth science and marine geochemistry. He received the Crafoord Prize in 1986 jointly with Claude Allègre for their pioneering work in isotope geology.

Wasserburg was fond of wagers and bets, typically involving his scientific predictions. A bottle of good wine was often at stake.

The Caltech Archives has finished the processing of Professor Wasserburg's Papers and a searchable collection guide to the now 172 archival boxes has been published online at the Online Archive of California (OAC).

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