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Georges Charpak, Nobel Prize winner in physics, dies

French physicist Georges Charpak, who revolutionized the study of elementary particles by developing detectors that allowed near-instantaneous identification and analysis of particles produced in accelerator collisions, a feat that won him the 1992 Nobel Prize in physics, died Sept. 29 in Paris. He was 86.

His death was announced by the French research ministry, but no cause was given.

His work enabled the discovery of many different charged particles and led to physics Nobel Prizes for several researchers who used the detector in their own experiments.

"If you were to remove everything Charpak invented from all the particle detectors at all the big accelerator laboratories, you would simply not have anything left," John Peoples Jr., then-director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, said at the time Charpak received the Nobel.

The discoveries of the elementary particles known as W and Z at a European laboratory and the charm quark at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory "would not have been possible without his detectors, and most current research in high-energy physics depends on these devices," Peoples said.

Virtually all the detectors now in use represent some variant of this original design, first published in 1968.

Georges Charpak was born Aug. 1, 1924, in Dabrovica, which was then in Poland but is now part of Ukraine. His family moved to France when he was 5 to escape religious persecution. During World War II, the family refused to wear the yellow star identifying them as Jewish and obtained identification papers under the name Charpentier.

At age 19, he was deported to the Dachau concentration camp, from which he was liberated at the end of the war. In 1946, he became a naturalized French citizen.

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