Georges (Jerzy) Charpak was a French physicist with Polish-Jewish roots. In 1992, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for “the invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multi-tube proportional chamber.” The discovery he made in 1968 has had wide applications in medical physics.

Charpak was born in 1924 in Poland in Dąbrowica (now Ukraine). When he was a child, his family emigrated to Palestine for 2 years, then moved back to Poland and finally to France. Jerzy studied mathematics at the Lycée Saint Louis in Paris. During the German occupation, he had to flee the city and was hiding under a false identity. He joined the Resistance and in 1943 he was arrested and sentenced by a court in Vichy to two years in prison. In 1944, he was transported to the concentration camp in Dachau.

He spoke out against nuclear weapons and was a strong supporter of the independence of the French colonies. He was also involved in social projects.

After the liberation of the camp in 1945, he returned to Paris and began engineering studies at the prestigious Ecole des Mines. A year later, he obtained French citizenship. At the Collège de France he was a student of Frédéric Joliot-Curie, husband of the daughter of the famous Polish Nobel Prize winner. In 1949, he started working at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and five years later he defended his doctorate in nuclear physics. In 1959, he got into the famous CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) in Geneva. There he worked on the development of new particle detection techniques.

After retiring in 1989, he founded Biospace, a company dedicated to the development of innovative imaging tools, mainly used in biology. In 1985, he was admitted as a member of the French Academy of Sciences. Charpak was interested in politics and had leftist views. He spoke out against nuclear weapons and was a strong supporter of the independence of the French colonies. He was also involved in social projects. In 1966, he launched the project La main à la pâte (hands on), which revolutionized the way science is taught in French schools. He died in 2010 in Paris.