Willis Lamb Biography


Birthday: July 12, 1913 (Cancer)

Born In: Los Angeles, California, United States

Willis Eugene Lamb Jr. was an American physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering a minute difference in the energy levels of a hydrogen atom. His findings led to a reassessment of the basic concept related to the application of the quantum theory to electromagnetism. This deviation in the energy level of an electron orbiting round the nucleus of a hydrogen atom came to be known as ‘the Lamb shift’. The discovery greatly affected the concept of quantum theory related to matter. He shared the Nobel Prize with German-American physicist, Ploykarp Kusch who had also come to the same conclusions while doing the experiment independently. In 1939, at the age of 26, he predicted an effect which was proven 20 years later as the ‘Mossbauer Effect’ also known as the ‘Lamb-Dicke-Mossbauer Effect’. His research covered subjects like theory of the interactions between matter and neutrons, range of fission fragments, theories of nuclear structure, fluctuations in cosmic ray showers, theories of beta decay, pair production, order-disorder problems, quadrupole interactions in molecules and diamagnetic corrections for nuclear resonance. He also studied the design of magnetron oscillators, theory of electrodynamic energy level displacements, theory of the microwave spectroscope and the fine structure of hydrogen, helium and deuterium atoms.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Willis Eugene Lamb Jr.

Died At Age: 94


father: Willis Eugene Lamb

mother: Marie Helen Metcalfe

siblings: Perry

Physicists American Men

Died on: May 15, 2008

place of death: Tucson, Arizona, United States

Cause of Death: Complications Of A Gallstone Disorder

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics

U.S. State: California

City: Los Angeles

discoveries/inventions: Lamb Shift, Laser Theory, Quantum Optics

More Facts

education: University of California, Berkeley

awards: Nobel Prize in Physics (1955)

Childhood & Early Life
Willis E. Lamb was born in Los Angeles, California, USA on July 12, 1913. His father, Willis Eugene was a telephone engineer and his mother was Marie Helen Metcalfe.
He had a younger brother named Perry.
His initially studied for three years in Oakland, California and then joined a public school in Los Angeles.
He graduated from the ‘Los Angeles High School’ with mathematics, physics and chemistry as his major subjects.
He enrolled at the ‘University of California’ in Berkeley in 1930 and received a B.S. bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the university in 1934.
He studied theoretical physics and did his thesis for his doctorate under J. Robert Oppeheimer who later headed the Manhattan Project.
Lamb received his doctorate from the ‘University of California’ in Berkeley in 1938 for his dissertation related to the electromagnetic properties of nuclear systems.
Willis E. Lamb joined the faculty of the physics department in ‘Columbia University’ in 1938 as an ‘Instructor in Physics’. He became an ‘Associate’ in 1943, an ‘Assistant Professor’ in 1945, an ‘Associate Professor’ in 1947 and a full Professor in 1948.
During the Second World War he worked at the ‘Columbia University Radiation Laboratory’ from 1943 to 1951 on how to make sources for radar which could produce shorter microwaves at higher frequencies. This work helped him win the Nobel Prize later.
In April,1947, he carried out an experiment with which he was able to discover the shift in the energy levels of a hydrogen atom which later came to be known as ‘the Lamb shift’.
He taught atomic spectroscopy as a ‘Professor of Physics’ at the ‘University of Stanford’ from 1951 to 1956.
He also served as a ‘Morris Loeb Lecturer’ at the ‘Harvard University’ from 1953 to 1954.
He served as a ‘Wykeham Professor of Physics’ and Fellow of ‘New College’ at the ‘University of Oxford’ in England from 1956 to 1962.
He joined the ‘Yale University’ as a ‘Henry Ford II Professor of Physics in 1962 and became a ‘J. Willard Gibbs Professor of Physics in 1972. He held that post till 1974.
He joined the ‘University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center’ in 1974 and became a ‘Regent’s Professor of Physics and Optical Sciences’ in 1990.
He worked from his office in the ‘University of Arizona’ campus after retiring from active teaching at the university in 2002.
Major Works
Williams E. Lamb wrote a series of papers which were published in the journal ‘Physical Review’ from 1947 to 1953. These papers were regarded as classics by atomic scientists all over the world.
Awards & Achievements
Williams E. Lamb received the ‘Rumford Premium Award’ from the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ in 1953.
An honorary D.Sc. degree was conferred upon him by the ‘University of Pennsylvania’ in 1954.
He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955 and the ‘Research Corporation Award’ in the same year.
He received ‘Einstein Medal’ from the ‘Society for Optical and Quantum Electronics’ in 1992.
He received the ‘Guthrie Award’ from the ‘Physical Society of London’.
He was elected to the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ and was made an ‘Honorary Member’ of the ‘Optical Society of America’ in 1999.
He was also made a ‘Fellow of the American Physical Society’ and a ‘Foreign Member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’.
He received the ‘National Medal of Science’, the highest national honor for scientific work, in 2000.
He held honorary degrees from the ‘Oxford University’, the ‘Yale University’, the ‘Yeshiva University’, the ‘Gustavus Adolphus College’ and the ‘Columbia University’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Ursula Schaefer, a German student of history associated with the ‘University of Arizona’, in 1939.
After the death of Ursula in 1996, he married Bruria Kaufman, an Israeli physicist whom he had met in Columbia in 1941, in the same year and divorced her later.
His third marriage was with Elsie Wattson on January 26, 2008 whom he had met 27 years ago. He did not have any children from any of these marriages.
Willis Eugene Lamb died of complications due to gallstones at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona, USA on May 15, 2008 at the age of 94.
The ‘Willis E. Lamb Award’ for ‘Laser Science and Quantum Optics’ was initiated by the ‘Physics of Quantum Electronics (PQE)’ in 1998 and is presented annually to scientists for their outstanding contributions to the field of quantum theory.
Willis E. Lamb was described by another UA physicist William A. Wing as ‘one of the rare physicists who goes on and on, just keeps on exploring throughout his career’. His colleagues found his work ethic inspiring and called him ‘a real giant in his field’.

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