- Albert Abraham Michelson
name = Albert Abraham Michelson
caption = Albert Abraham Michelson
birth_date = birth date|1852|12|19|mf=y
Strzelno, Kingdom of Prussia
death_date = death date and age|1931|5|9|1852|12|19
Case Western Reserve University Clark University University of Chicago
US Naval Academy University of Berlin
Speed of light Michelson-Morley experiment
Nobel Prize for Physics(1907)
Albert Abraham Michelson (
December 19, 1852– May 9, 1931) was a Polish-American physicistknown for his work on the measurement of the speed of lightand especially for the Michelson-Morley experiment. In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. He became the first American to receive the Nobel Prizein sciences.
Michelson, the son of a
Polish-Jewishmerchant (father) and a Polish mother, was born to a Polish-Jewishfamily in what is today Strzelno, Poland(then Strelno, Provinz Posenin the Kingdom of Prussia). He moved to the United Stateswith his parents in 1855, when he was two years old. He grew up in the rough mining towns of Murphy's Camp, Californiaand Virginia City, Nevada, where his father was a merchant. He spent his high school years in San Franciscoin the home of his aunt, Henriette Levy (née Michelson), who was the mother of author Harriet Lane Levy.Levy, "920 O'Farrell Street", 47.]
Ulysses S. Grantawarded Michelson a special appointment to the U.S. Naval Academyin 1869. During his four years as a midshipmanat the Academy, Michelson excelled in optics, heatand climatologyas well as drawing. After his graduation in 1873 and two years at sea, he returned to the Academy in 1875 to become an instructor in physicsand chemistryuntil 1879. From 1880 to 1882, Michelson undertook postgraduate study at Berlinunder Hermann Helmholtzand at Paris.
Michelson was fascinated with the sciences and the problem of measuring the
speed of lightin particular. While at Annapolis, he conducted his first experiments of the speed of light, as part of a class demonstration in 1877. After two years of studies in Europe, he resigned from the Navy in 1881. In 1883 he accepted a position as professor of physics at the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohioand concentrated on developing an improved interferometer. In 1887 he and Edward Morleycarried out the famous Michelson-Morley experimentwhich seemed to rule out the existence of the aether. He later moved on to use astronomical interferometers in the measurement of stellar diameters and in measuring the separations of binary stars.
In 1889 Michelson became a professor at
Clark Universityat Worcester, Massachusettsand in 1892 was appointed professor and the first head of the department of physics at the newly organized University of Chicago.
In 1899, he married Edna Stanton and they raised one son and three daughters.
In 1907, Michelson had the honor of being the first American to receive a
Nobel Prize in Physics"for his optical precision instruments and the spectroscopic and metrological investigations carried out with their aid". He also won the Copley Medalin 1907, the Henry Draper Medalin 1916 and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Societyin 1923. A crater on the Moonis named after him.
Michelson died in
Pasadena, Californiaat the age of 78. The University of Chicago Residence Halls remembered Michelson and his achievements by dedicating [http://michelson-house.uchicago.edu Michelson House] in his honor. Case Western Reserve has also dedicated a Michelson House to him, and an academic building at the United States Naval Academyalso bears his name. Michelson Laboratory at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lakein Ridgecrest, Californiais named after him. There is an interesting display in the publicly accessible area of the Lab of Michelson's Nobel Prize medal, the actual prize document, and examples of his diffraction gratings.
peed of light
As early as 1877, while still serving as an officer in the
US Navy, Michelson started planning a refinement of the rotating-mirror method of Léon Foucaultfor measuring the speed of light, using improved opticsand a longer baseline. He conducted some preliminary measurements using largely improvised equipment in 1878 about which time his work came to the attention of Simon Newcomb, director of the Nautical Almanac Officewho was already advanced in planning his own study. Michelson published his result of 299,910±50 km/s in 1879 before joining Newcomb in Washington DCto assist with his measurements there. Thus began a long professional collaboration and friendship between the two. Simon Newcomb, with his more adequately funded project, obtained a value of 299,860±30 km/s, just at the extreme edge of consistency with Michelson's. Michelson continued to "refine" his method and in 1883 published a measurement of 299,853±60 km/s, rather closer to that of his mentor.
Mount Wilson and Lookout Mountain
In 1906, a novel electrical method was used by
E. B. Rosaand N. E. Dorseyof the National Bureau of Standardsto obtain a value for the speed of lightof 299,781±10 km/s. Though this result has subsequently been shown to be severely biased by the poor electrical standards in use at the time, it seems to have set a fashion for rather lower measured values.
From 1920, Michelson started planning a "definitive" measurement from the
Mount Wilson Observatory, using a baseline to Lookout Mountain, a prominent bump on the south ridge of Mount San Antonio("Old Baldy"), some 22 miles distant.
In 1922, the
U.S. Coast and Geodetic Surveybegan two years of painstaking measurement of the baseline using the recently available invartapes. With the baseline length established in 1924, measurements were carried out over the next two years to obtain the published value of 299,796±4 km/s.
"A Geodetic Measurement of Unusually High Accuracy" by Captain C.L. Garner of this baseline survey and measurement can be found at:
Famous as the measurement is, it was beset by problems, not least of which was the haze created by the smoke from forest fires which blurred the mirror image. It is also probable that the intensively detailed work of the Geodetic Survey, with an estimated error of less than one part in 1 million, was compromised by a shift in the baseline arising from the Santa Barbara
earthquakeof 29 June 1925which was an estimated magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale.
Michelson, Pease & Pearson
The period after 1927 marked the advent of new measurements of the
speed of lightusing novel electro-optic devices, all substantially lower than Michelson's 1926 value.
Michelson sought another measurement but this time in an evacuated tube to avoid difficulties in interpreting the image owing to atmospheric effects. In 1930, he began a collaboration with
Francis G. Peaseand Fred Pearsonto perform a measurement in a 1.6 km tube at Pasadena, California. Michelson died with only 36 of the 233 measurement series completed and the experiment was subsequently beset by geological instability and condensation problems before the result of 299,774±11 km/s, consistent with the prevailing electro-optic values, was published posthumously in 1935.
In 1887 he collaborated with colleague Edward Williams Morley in the
Michelson-Morley experiment. Their experiment for the expected motion of the Earthrelative to the aether, the hypothetical medium in which lightwas supposed to travel, resulted in a null result. Though it may appear that Albert Einsteindid not know of the work, it gave a boost to the acceptance of the theory of relativity.
From 1920 and into 1921 Michelson and
Francis G. Peasebecame the first individuals to measure the diameter of a star other than the Sun. They used an astronomical interferometerat the Mount Wilson Observatoryto measure the diameter of the super-giant star Betelgeuse. A periscope arrangement was used to obtain a densified pupil in the interferometer, a method later investigated in detail by Antoine Émile Henry Labeyriefor use in with "Hypertelescopes". The measurement of stellar diameters and the separations of binary stars took up an increasing amount of Michelson's life after this.
Michelson in popular culture
In an episode of the
televisionseries " Bonanza" ("Look to the Stars", broadcast March 18, 1962), Ben Cartwright ( Lorne Greene) helps the 16-year-old Albert Abraham Michelson (portrayed by 25-year-old Douglas Lambert(1936-1986)) obtain an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, despite the opposition of the anti-semitic town schoolteacher, William Schallert. "Bonanza" was set in and around Virginia City, Nevada, where Michelson lived with his parents prior to leaving for the Naval Academy. In the postscriptto the episode, Greene mentions Michelson's 1907 Nobel Prize.
Michelson House in
Shoreland Hall, an undergraduate dorm at The University of Chicago, is named after him.
Michelson House, an undergraduate residence hall at
Case Western Reserve Universityin Cleveland, Ohio, is named after him.
Honours and awards
*National Academy of Sciences
American Physical Society
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Nobel Prize for Physics(1907)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society(1923)
Computer Measurement Groupgives an annual A. A. Michelson award
* [http://books.nap.edu/books/0309025184/html/282.html Albert Abraham Michelson National Academy of Science]
* [http://www.aip.org/history/gap/Michelson/Michelson.html Michaelson's Life and Works from the American Institute of Physics]
* [http://www.usna.edu/LibExhibits/Michelson/Michelson_navy.html U. S. Naval Academy and The Navy]
* [http://michelson-house.uchicago.edu Michelson House at the University of Chicago]
* [http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1907/michelson-bio.html Michelson's Nobel Prize Biography]
*gutenberg author|id=Albert_A._Michelson|name=Albert Abraham Michelson
*" [http://www.gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR11753.HTM Experimental Determination of the Velocity of Light] "
* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0529603/ IMDB: Bonanza episode "Look to the Stars"]
NAME= Michelson, Albert Abraham
DATE OF BIRTH=
December 29, 1852
PLACE OF BIRTH=
DATE OF DEATH=
May 9, 1931
PLACE OF DEATH=
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