Albert Abraham Michelson

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Albert Abraham Michelson

Also Known As: "Nobel Prize in Physics 1907"
Birthdate: (78)
Birthplace: Strelno, Prussia
Death: May 9, 1931 (78)
Pasadena, Los Angeles, California, United States
Place of Burial: Altadena, Los Angeles, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Michelson and Rosalie (Rosa) Michelson
Husband of Edna Michelson
Ex-husband of Margaret Michelson
Father of Dorothy Michelson; Beatrice Foster; Madeleine Michelson; Albert Heminway Michelson; Truman Michelson and 1 other
Brother of Pauline P. Bergstein; Benjamin Michelson; Julia A. Michelson; Bessie McEwen; Mary A. Michelson and 3 others

Managed by: Martin Severin Eriksen
Last Updated:

About Albert Abraham Michelson

Albert Abraham Michelson (December 19, 1852 – May 9, 1931) was an American physicist known for his work on the measurement of the speed of light and especially for the Michelson-Morley experiment. In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. He became the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in sciences.

Albert Abraham Michelson

Born: 19-Dec-1852

Birthplace: Strelno, Prussia

Died: 9-May-1931

Location of death: Pasadena, CA

Remains: Buried, Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, CA

Gender: Male

Religion: Jewish

Race or Ethnicity: White

Occupation: Physicist, Inventor

Nationality: United States

Executive summary: Measured the speed of light

Military service: US Navy (1869-81); US Naval Reserves (1918-22; to Commander)

American inventor and physicist Albert A. Michelson was born in Strelno, Prussia (now Strzelno, Poland) in 1852, and immigrated to America with his family when he was three years of age. He grew up amidst the wilds of the California Gold Rush, became fascinated with physics at an early age, and studied and then taught at the U.S. Naval Academy. While still at Annapolis he first repeated and improved upon Léon Foucault's measurement of the speed of light, calculating the speed at 300,140 kilometers per second.

In the 1880s he sought to measure the ether drift, the movement of the Earth through the luminiferous ether thought to comprise the universal substratum of space. He designed and built the Michelson interferometer, a mirrored beam-splitter capable of measuring almost unfathomably small distances using the length of light waves. To his own surprise, however, though the machine worked well its finding was null, and Michelson thought he had failed. In 1887 he improved his equipment and calculations in collaboration with noted physical chemist Edward Morley (1838-1923), and they conducted their famous Michelson-Morley ether drift experiment, which again came to a null result. Their finding -- or non-finding -- was widely interpreted as disproving the theory of luminiferous aether and thus challenging the fundamentals of classical Newtonian physics, a challenge that was further clarified with Albert Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity.

Michelson was the first American scientist to win a Nobel Prize, claiming the Physics honor of 1907 for his invention of the Michelson interferometer. In 1920 he made the first substantially accurate measurement of a star, using a six-meter interferometer attached to telescope to measure the diameter of Betelgeuse. In the 1920s he re-measured the speed of light using a more advanced eight-sided revolving mirror, finding the speed to be 299,774 km/sec, remarkably close to the now-known speed of 299,792 km/sec. He was also among the first scientists to advocate redefining the meter based on wavelengths of light.

Wife: Margaret Heminway (m. 1877, div. 1898, two sons, one daughter) Son: Albert Heminway Michelson Son: Truman Michelson Daughter: Elsa Michelson Wife: Edna Stanton (m. 1899, three daughters) Daughter: Beatrice Michelson Daughter: Dorothy Michelson Daughter: Madeleine Michelson

   High School: Lowell High School, San Francisco (1869)
   University: BS Chemistry & Physics, US Naval Academy, Annapolis (1873)
   Teacher: Science, US Naval Academy, Annapolis (1875-79)
   Scholar: University of Berlin (1880-81)
   Scholar: University of Heidelberg (1881-82)
   Lecturer: Physics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland (1882-83)
   Professor: Physics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland (1883-89)
   Professor: Clark University, Worcester (1889-92)
   Professor: Physics, University of Chicago (1892-1929)
   Scholar: Mt Wilson Observatory, Pasadena (1929-31)
   Rumford Prize 1888
   Matteucci Medal 1903
   Nobel Prize for Physics 1907
   Copley Medal 1907
   Elliot Cresson Medal 1912
   Henry Draper Medal 1916
   Benjamin Franklin Medal 1923 (by the Franklin Institute)
   Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal 1923
   IOP Duddell Medal 1929
   American Association for the Advancement of Science Vice President (1887-88)
   American Association for the Advancement of Science President (1910-11)
   American Philosophical Society 1902
   American Physical Society President (1900-01)
   French Academy of Sciences Foreign Member
   Physical Society of London Foreign Member
   Nautical Almanac Office, Washington, DC (1879-80) 
   National Academy of Sciences 1900
   National Academy of Sciences President (1923-27)
   Optical Society of America 
   Royal Astronomical Society Foreign Member
   Royal Society 
   Naturalized US Citizen 
   Jewish Ancestry Paternal
   Polish Ancestry 
   Russian Ancestry 

Author of books: Light Waves and Their Uses (1899-1903, physics) Velocity of Light: The Man Who Measured the Speed of Light (1902, memoir) Studies in Optics (1927, physics)

Other References

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Albert Abraham Michelson's Timeline

December 19, 1852
Strelno, Prussia
Age 27
Age 27
Age 32
Age 47
Age 47
September 9, 1904
Age 51
May 9, 1931
Age 78
Pasadena, Los Angeles, California, United States