Willis Lamb

Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.

Willis Eugene Lamb
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1955

Born: 12 July 1913, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Died: 15 May 2008, Tucson, AZ, USA

Affiliation at the time of the award: Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

Prize motivation: “for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum”

Prize share: 1/2

 

Work

According to Niels Bohr’s atomic model, a photon is emitted when an electron descends to a lower energy level. This results in a spectrum with lines corresponding to the different energy levels of different atoms. It appeared that the lines were divided into several lines close to one another, which Paul Dirac tried to explain in a theory. However, in 1947 Willis Lamb used precise measurements to establish what became known as the Lamb shift: what ought to have been a single energy level in the hydrogen atom according to Dirac’s theory actually was two nearby levels with a small difference in energy.

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