Birthday: March 11, 1920
Died At Age: 97
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Nico Bloembergen
Born in: Dordrecht, Netherlands
Famous as: Physicist
Died on: September 5, 2017
awards: 1981 - Nobel Prize in Physics
1983 - IEEE Medal of Honor
1957 - Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences
US & Canada
1978 - Lorentz Medal
1975 - National Medal of Science for Physical Science
1983 - Dirac Medal for the Advancement of Theoretical Physics
Nicolaas Bloembergen is a Dutch-American physicist who won a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1981 for his contribution towards the revolutionary spectroscopic studies of the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter. He made a pioneering use of lasers in his experiments and performed significant research on nuclear quadrupole interactions in alloys and imperfect ionic crystals. Born in the Netherlands into a large family, he became interested in science at a young age owing to the intellectually stimulating atmosphere he grew up in. His grandfather was a high school principal with a Ph.D. in mathematical physics, and the young boy inherited his aptitude for the subject. As a young man, he entered the University of Utrecht to study physics but the institution was shut down during the World War II. He then went to the United States for his higher studies and eventually settled down there. His initial research was on nuclear magnetic resonance which led him to an interest in masers. He proceeded to build a three-stage crystal maser and also did important work in the development of laser spectroscopy, which allows high-precision observations of atomic structure. It was ultimately his research in nonlinear optics that helped him win the Nobel Prize.
Childhood & Early Life
Nicolaas Bloembergen was born on March 11, 1920, in Dordrecht, Netherlands, to Auke Bloembergen and Sophia Maria Quint as one of their six children. His father, a chemical engineer, was an executive in a chemical fertilizer company. His mother was a highly educated woman who chose to focus her efforts on raising her family. His maternal grandfather was a high school principal with a Ph.D. in mathematical physics.
Nicolaas Bloembergen joined the municipal gymnasium in Utrecht as a 12-year-old and became drawn to science, especially physics as a teenager.
In 1938, Bloembergen entered the University of Utrecht to study physics. There he thrived under the guidance of Professor L.S. Ornstein who recognized the youngster’s potential and gave him ample opportunities to gain new knowledge and experience.
His idyllic student years were threatened by the increasingly chaotic political climate in Europe in the early 1940s as the World War II raged on. Germany occupied the Netherlands in 1940 and his beloved teacher Ornstein was removed from the university in 1941. Bloembergen somehow managed to continue his studies and obtained the degree of Phil. Drs., equivalent to a M.Sc. degree before the Nazis closed the university completely in 1943.
The following two years were nightmarish for the young man who spent his days hiding indoors to escape the Nazis, surviving on whatever he could get his hands on to eat. Despite the difficulties, he continued reading books by the light of a storm lamp.
By the time the World War II ended, Europe had been completely devastated. So Bloembergen left the war-torn Netherlands in 1945 and went to the United States to pursue graduate studies at Harvard University under Professor Edward Mills Purcell.
Shortly before his arrival at Harvard, Purcell and his graduate students Torrey and Pound discovered nuclear magnetic resonance. Upon his joining, Bloembergen helped the team in developing an early NMR system. He also performed research on nuclear spin relaxation mechanism by conduction electrons in metals and by paramagnetic impurities in ionic crystals.
He returned to the Netherlands to receive his Ph.D. from the University of Leiden with his thesis ‘Nuclear Magnetic Relaxation’ in 1948 before returning to Harvard.
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Nicolaas Bloembergen became a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows in Harvard in 1949. In 1951, he became an Associate Professor. In 1957, he became Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, a title he held until 1980.
His initial research was on nuclear magnetic resonance. During the early years of his career, he studied nuclear quadrupole interactions in alloys and imperfect ionic crystals, and developed an understanding of the scalar and tensor indirect nuclear spin-spin coupling in metals and insulators.
His research played a vital role in his team’s experiments in microwave spectroscopy, which led the group to develop a crystal maser in 1956. He designed a three-stage crystal maser that eventually became the most widely used microwave amplifier.
He also performed major work in the field of laser spectroscopy, which allows high-precision observations of atomic structure. His research in this area ultimately led him to formulate nonlinear optics, a new theoretical approach to the analysis of how electromagnetic radiation interacts with matter.
He served as the Rumford Professor of Physics from 1974 to 1980, and was appointed Gerhard Gade University Professor in 1980. He retired from Harvard in 1990.
In 2001, he began teaching at the University of Arizona where he continued his research in nonlinear optics with special emphasis on interactions of picosecond and femtosecond laser pulses with condensed matter and of collision-induced optical coherences.
A world renowned expert on laser spectroscopy, Nicolaas Bloembergen is credited with developing a technique which allows high-precision observations of atomic structure. He also designed a three-stage crystal maser that went on to become the most widely used microwave amplifier.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1978.
Nicolaas Bloembergen and Arthur Leonard Schawlow jointly received half of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1981 "for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy." The other half went to Kai M. Siegbahn "for his contribution to the development of high-resolution electron spectroscopy."
Bloembergen is also the recipient of several other prestigious awards like Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize (1958), Stuart Ballantine Medal (1961), IEEE Medal of Honor (1983), and Dirac Medal (1983).
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Huberta Deliana Brink in 1950. His wife is a pianist and artist, and the couple has three children.