Walter Alvarez

Didn’t Win a Nobel? The Honors and Prestige Don’t End There.

On April 13, 1888, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who made millions turning his invention into munitions and selling them to the armies of the world, was aghast to read a story in a Paris newspaper that mistakenly reported his death.

It was actually his older brother, Ludvig, who had died, but Alfred was horrified by the headline: “The merchant of death is dead.”

The story went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever, died yesterday.” Read more about Didn't Win a Nobel? The Honors and Prestige Don't End There. »

A Smoking Gun: The Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs May Have Had Help

Any third grader can tell you what killed the dinosaurs: an asteroid that smashed into Earth 66 million years ago, obliterating T. Rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor, and paving the way for mammals to thrive.

But that theory was wildly controversial when first introduced in 1980 by Berkeley Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, a UC Berkeley paleogeologist. Their idea plunged the paleontology community into decades of acrimonious debate before it became the accepted explanation. Now the theory is being challenged once again. Read more about A Smoking Gun: The Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs May Have Had Help »

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

Doomsday 1: An Asteroid Wiped Out the Dinosaurs—Will We Be Next?

Editors’ Note: The Summer 2014 issue of California magazine is called “This is the End.” Every day this week: a different catastrophic scenario.

It started with a flash.

At a few minutes past 9:00, one crystalline morning last February, a burst of light brighter than 30 suns illuminated Chelyabinsk, Russia, a southern industrial city known mostly for making tractors. Thanks to smartphones, surveillance cameras, and Russian auto-dash cams, we have a voluminous record of what happened next. Read more about Doomsday 1: An Asteroid Wiped Out the Dinosaurs—Will We Be Next? »

From the Summer 2014 Apocalypse issue of California.

The (Really) Big Picture

When we begin to appreciate the idea of rocks as recorders of the truly ancient history of the Earth and start to learn what happened in that history, we experience a dizzying but exhilarating expansion of our appreciation of time. It’s like taking off in an airplane, rapidly climbing to cruising altitude, and suddenly seeing our narrow surroundings unfold into a vast and intricate landscape—in this case the landscape of history.
-Walter Alvarez,
The Mountains of Saint Francis
From the Fall 2009 Constant Change issue of California.
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