John Hasbrouck Van Vleck Biography

John Hasbrouck Van Vleck was an American physicist and mathematician who won a share of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics. This biography provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

John Hasbrouck Van Vleck
Quick Facts

Birthday: March 13, 1899

Nationality: American

Famous: Physicists Mathematicians

Died At Age: 81

Sun Sign: Pisces

Born in: Middletown, Connecticut

Famous as: Physicist, Mathematician


Spouse/Ex-: Abigail Pearson

father: Edward Burr Van Vleck

mother: Hester Laurence Raymond

Died on: October 27, 1980

place of death: Cambridge, Massachusetts

U.S. State: Connecticut

More Facts

awards: Irving Langmuir Award (1965)
National Medal of Science (1966)
ForMemRS (1967)

Elliott Cresson Medal (1971)
Lorentz Medal (1974)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1977)

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John Hasbrouck Van Vleck was an American physicist and mathematician who won a share of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the understanding of the behavior of electrons in magnetic solids. It was during the 1930s that he developed the first fully articulated quantum mechanical theory of magnetism. Along with his significant contributions to the study of magnetism, he also made valuable inputs to studies of the spectra of free molecules, of paramagnetic relaxation, and other topics. The son of mathematician Edward Burr Van Vleck, and grandson of astronomer John Monroe Van Vleck, he grew up in an intellectually stimulating atmosphere, and was encouraged from a young age to pursue scientific enquires. As a young man he attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Harvard University from where he completed his doctorate. He ventured into an academic career and taught at various universities before returning to Harvard where he eventually became the chairman of the physics department. His important research in the quantum mechanical theory of magnetism and the crystal field theory led him to be regarded as the Father of Modern Magnetism.

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John Hasbrouck Van Vleck
Childhood & Early Life
  • John Hasbrouck Van Vleck was born in Middletown, Connecticut, March 13, 1899, as the only son of mathematician Edward Burr Van Vleck and his wife, Hester Laurence Raymond. His grandfather was the astronomer John Monroe Van Vleck.
  • He grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment and displayed proficiency in science and mathematics from a young age. He graduated with an A.B. degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1920.
  • Then he proceeded to Harvard University for graduate studies and earned a Ph.D. degree in 1922. His doctoral thesis was on the calculation of the binding energy of a certain model of the helium atom which he completed under the guidance of Professor Kemble, the one person in America at that time qualified to direct purely theoretical research in quantum atomic physics.
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  • In 1923, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck was offered an assistant professorship at the University of Minnesota with purely graduate courses to teach. The young scientist was delighted at the opportunity as it allowed him ample time to devote to research.
  • Van Vleck conceived his correspondence principle for absorption in 1924. He demonstrated that in the limit of high quantum numbers there would be a correspondence between absorption by classical, multiple periodic systems, and by their quantum analogues. This was a very significant finding for that period.
  • During his career at Minnesota, he completed a report, ‘Quantum Principles and Line Spectra’ for the National Research Council. An immediate hit upon its publication, it quickly sold out its initial printing of 1,000 copies, and an additional 300 copies were printed in 1928.
  • He became a professor at the University of Wisconsin in 1928, a position he held until 1934. During this time he began writing his second book, ‘The Theory of Electric and Magnetic Susceptibilities’ which was published in 1932. The same year he also wrote his first paper on the crystal field theory.
  • In the mid-1930s, he moved to the Harvard University and remained there until his retirement in 1969. He served in a number of different positions at the university over the years: as chairman of the physics department (1945–49), dean of engineering and applied physics (1951–57), and Hollis professor of mathematics and natural philosophy (1951–69).
  • Over the course of his career, he established the fundamentals of the quantum mechanical theory of magnetism and the crystal field theory (chemical bonding in metal complexes) because of which he is regarded as the Father of Modern Magnetism.
  • During the World War II, he participated in the Manhattan Project and was a part of the theoretical study group of scientists which examined and developed the principles of atomic bomb design.
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  • His war time contributions also include works on the radar at the MIT Radiation Lab which he performed in addition to his academic duties at Harvard. His research in this regard was significant not just for the military (and civil) radar systems but also eventually led to the development of the new science of radioastronomy.
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Major Works
  • John Hasbrouck Van Vleck was a participant in the Manhattan Project, a research and development project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II. Along with other noted theoretical scientists, Van Vleck examined and developed the principles of atomic bomb design.
  • During the World War II, he worked on radar and demonstrated that that at about 1.25-centimeter wavelength water molecules in the atmosphere would lead to troublesome absorption and that at 0.5-centimeter wavelength there would be a similar absorption by oxygen molecules.
Awards & Achievements
  • He was awarded the Irving Langmuir Award in 1965, the National Medal of Science in 1966, the Elliott Cresson Medal in 1971, and the Lorentz Medal in 1974.
  • John Hasbrouck van Vleck, Philip Warren Anderson and Sir Nevill Francis Mott were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1977 "for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems."
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He married Abigail Pearson in 1927. Both of them were important art collectors, particularly in the medium of Japanese woodblock prints (principally Ukiyo-e). Their marriage lasted more than five decades.
  • He died on October 27, 1980, at the age of 81.

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Last Updated
- November 02, 2017
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck

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