Thursday, September 17, 2009

Albert Abraham Michelson

Albert Abraham Michelson was
the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in sciences. He was born in Strzelno, Prussia (which became Poland) on 19 December 1852 to Samuel Michelson and Rozalia Przylubski. In 1855 the family emigrated to the United States. They made their way to the town of Murphys, located in the heart of the California Gold Country, where Samuel became a merchant to the mining community.

These photos were taken at the family home in Murphys, and the residence is commemorated by a plaque. The house is now a tasting room for Twisted Oak Winery, a few miles away in Vallecito, and I persuaded the girl pouring to show me the original portion of the building. It consisted of the two front rooms, which are now used for storage, and an outdoor kitchen.

Samuel Michelson moved his family to Virginia City, Nevada, presumably to take advantage of the Comstock strike and the influx of miners to that area. Albert was sent to San Francisco to live with his father's sister, Henriette Levy and attend high school.

In 1869 Michelson went to Annapolis Naval Academy and after graduation and two years at sea returned as a science instructor. While there he performed experiments to determine the velocity of light and decided upon a career in physics. He traveled to Europe and studied at the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, and Paris. In 1882 he took a position at the Case School of Applied Science and collaborated with the chemist Edward Morley in several experiments. These were recognized by the scientific community as the most significant of several kinds of attempts to measure the velocity of the earth through the ether, a substance that scientists believed filled the universe (the experiment determined that ether did not exist),

From 1889 to 1892 Michelson was a professor of physics at Clark University and from 1892 to 1929 was head of the physics department at the University of Chicago. He was among the founders of The American Physical Society and its second president.

He was the first American scientist to win a Nobel Prize (1907) and the first person to measure the angular diameter of a star. He focused on surpassing his own measurements of the velocity of light, which he achieved in1926. He died in 1931 as he was writing up his results and is buried in Pasadena.


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  2. It was replaced by the post "A little more on Albert Michelson and the family home" so that "El Jefe's" comments would be more obvious and available.