Georges Charpak was born in the village of D?browica in Poland (now Dubrovytsia, Ukraine). Charpak's family moved from Poland to Paris when he was seven years old.
During World War II Charpak served in the resistance and was imprisoned by Vichy authorities in 1943. In 1944 he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, where he remained until the camp was liberated in 1945. After graduating from the Lycée Joffre in Montpellier, in 1945 he joined the Paris-based École des Mines, one of the most prestigious engineering schools in France. The following year he became a naturalized French citizen.
He graduated in 1948, earning the French degree of Civil Engineer of Mines (equivalent to a Master's degree) and started working for the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). He received his PhD in 1954 from Nuclear Physics at the Collège de France, Paris, where he worked in the laboratory of Frédéric Joliot-Curie.
In 1959, he joined the staff of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva. This is where he invented the multiwire proportional chamber, which he patented and that quickly superseded the old bubble chambers, allowing for better data processing. He eventually retired from CERN in 1991.
In 1980, Georges Charpak became professor-in-residence at École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles in Paris (ESPCI) and held the Joliot-Curie Chair there in 1984. This is where he developped and demonstrated the powerful applications of the particle detectors he invented, most notably for enabling better health diagnostics. He is indeed the co-founder of a number of start-up in the biomedical arena, including Molecular Engines Laboratories, Biospace Instruments and SuperSonic Imagine — together with Mathias Fink.
He was elected to the French Academy of Sciences on May 20th, 1985.
Georges Charpak was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1992 "for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber", with affiliations to both École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles (ESPCI) and CERN. This was the last time a single person was awarded the physics prize.
In France, Charpak was a very strong advocate for nuclear power. Prof. Charpak was a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists .