Pieter Zeeman Biography

Pieter Zeeman was a Dutch physicist who won Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the Zeeman Effect. This biography profiles his childhood, life, research, works, achievements and timeline.

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Discovered the 'Zeeman Effect'
Birth Date:
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Born in:
Zonnemaire, Netherlands
Catharinus Forandinus Zeeman
Willemina Worst.
Johanna Elisabeth Lebret
Died on:
October 9, 1943
place of death:
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Zeeman Effect.
More Facts
Leiden University
1902 - Nobel Prize for Physics
1912 - Matteucci Medal
1921 - Henry Draper Medal

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Pieter Zeeman was a Dutch physicist who won Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the Zeeman Effect. He is one of the most well-known physicists who successfully conducted research on spectral lines that led to the discovery of what is known as Zeeman Effect. Zeeman grew up in a small village in an island in the Netherlands but that did not hinder his interest in the sciences from an early age and in fact he had submitted a scientific illustration for the phenomenon of Aurora Borealis to a magazine when he was still in school. Zeeman studied and taught at the University of Leiden and later on he went on to become a professor at the University of Amsterdam. He collaborated with another famous scientist of the time in Hendrik Lorentz right from the time he was a doctoral student and later on when he became a leading physicist. Zeeman’s success with the Zeeman Effect made him one of the biggest scientists in Europe and indeed the world in the late 19th and early 20th century but the true enormity of his findings have been understood many years after his death as his research formed the basis of a number of future research in the field.

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Pieter Zeeman
Childhood & Early Life
  • Pieter Zeeman was born to Catharinus Forandinus Zeeman and Wilhelmina Zeeman on 25, May, 1865 in a tiny village located in Schouwen-Duiveland in Netherlands. Zeeman’s father was a clergyman in the village.
  • Pieter Zeeman was educated at his local school in Zierikzee and displayed a deep interest in the sciences from an early age. In 1883, he created an illustration of Aurora Borealis that took place that year and the illustration was published by the British scientific journal ‘Nature’.
  • After passing high school at the age of 18 in 1883, he was sent to Delft in order to learn the classical languages and he had to learn those languages since it was a compulsory requirement for anyone willing to go to university.
  • After completing his training in the classical languages, Zeeman enrolled at the University of Leiden in 1885. He was taught physics by such luminaries of the time as Hendrik Lorentz and before long he worked as Lorentz’s assistant at the university.
  • It was in the year 1893 that Pieter Zeeman presented his doctoral thesis at the University of Leiden and the subject was Kerr effect. He was awarded his doctorate and spent some time at Friedrich Kohlrausch Institute located in Strasbourg but he returned to take up the position of a Privatdozent or senior research and teacher at the University of Leiden.
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  • Pieter Zeeman’ time at the University of Leiden as a Privatdozent took an unexpected turn in the year 1896 when he was fired from the university by his supervisor when he conducted experiments in the laboratory in relation to spectral lines in a direct violation of orders. The research on spectral lines would go on to become the bedrock of his career as a scientist.
  • Zeeman continued his research on spectral lines. He worked diligently on his research in 1896 and in the same year his findings at Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences was recognized by eminent scientists. His old mentor from University, Hendrik Lorentz took an interest in the findings and it soon became well known.
  • Following the acceptance of his theory on spectral lines, Pieter Zeeman was appointed as a lecturer of physics at the University of Amsterdam in the year 1897. He was promoted to the post of a professor 3 years later and it was in his fifth year at the University of Amsterdam that Zeeman shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Hendrik Lorentz for the Zeeman Effect.
  • It was in the year 1908 that Pieter Zeeman was made the Director of the Institute of Physics located in Amsterdam and in the process he succeeded another giant of the world of physics research in Van der Waals. He was involved in advanced research for the rest of his career and published papers on gravitation as well as Magneto-optics that dealt with the behavior of light in a moving medium.
  • Zeeman also served as the Secretary of the Mathematical-Physical Section at the Royal Academy of Sciences for 8 years starting from 1912. He became a member of the Academy 14 years prior to his appointment as the secretary.
Major Works
  • Pieter Zeeman is considered among the foremost physicists of his time and during his career he worked on a lot of concepts; however it was his work on spectral lines that came to be known as the ‘Zeeman Effect’ that is without doubt his greatest work. He shared the 1902 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery.
Awards & Achievements
  • He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in the year 1902 along with Hendrik Lorentz for his work on the Zeeman Effect.
  • Zeeman was awarded the Matteucci Medal in 1912
  • In 1921, Zeeman won the Henry Draper Medal.
  • The Royal Society awarded Zeeman the Rumford Medal in 1922.
  • The Franklin Institute awarded Zeeman the Franklin Medal in 1925.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Pieter Zeeman got married to Johanna Elisabeth Lebret in 1895. The couple had 4 children - a son and 3 daughters.
  • Pieter Zeeman died in Amsterdam at the age of 78 on 9 October, 1943.

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Article Title
- Pieter Zeeman Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- December 14, 2015

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