Albert Michelson

Reference #1
Albert Abraham Michelson
Life of Albert Abraham Michelson
Born in Poland on Dec
19, 1852
Family moved in 1855 to
the US, and ended up in
San Francisco
At 17, he entered the
United States Naval
Academy at Annapolis
Maryland (below average
in seamanship)
Graduated in 1873 and
taught physics and
chemistry at the academy
from 75-79
Cadet at the Naval Academy
Reference #3
Various professorships at schools, went to
Europe to study optics.
When he returned he calculated c to be 299,853
km s-1
He later bettered the measurement to be
299,798 km s-1
He won the Nobel prize for his efforts to
calculate c.
1889-1929 head of the physics dept at the newly
organized University of Chicago
1923-1927 president of the National Academy of
Died on May 9, 1931 in Pasadena California
Reference #2
Reference #2
Reference #5
Albert A. Michelson (center) with (left to right) M.L. Humason, Edwin Hubble,
C.E. St. John, Albert Einstein, W.W. Campbell, and W.S. Adams
Michelson-Morley experiment to detect ether.
1890 – developed theory for interferometric
observations of single and double stars.
Suggested a telescope’s resolving power could
be increased using external mirrors in an
arrangement he called a stellar refractometer
Was the first to accurately measure the size of a
star. Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis) – 300 times the
diameter of the Sun
Was the 1st American to receive a Nobel Prize in
Physics, 1907
Reference #4
Reference #6
Reference #7
3D Interferometer
Interferometer Applet
Famous Quotes
Quotation from Michelson's address at the dedication ceremony for the
Ryerson Physical Laboratory at the University of Chicago in 1894:
"The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science
have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that
the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new
discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be
looked for in the sixth place of decimals."
Albert Einstein praised Michelson shortly after he died. "My honored Dr.
Michelson, it was you who led the physicists into new paths, and
through your marvelous experimental work paved the way for the
development of the theory of relativity.“
“I doubt any scientific man does his work to render distinguished
service. I think he does it because it is good fun.” Michelson on May
16, 1923 during acceptance speech for the Franklin Medal.
Mighty Ether Has Struck Out
Copyright 1996 David Arns
The outlook wasn't brilliant for Al Michelson that day,
The project he'd been working on just wouldn't go his way.
With Morley, he'd been working on this simple apparatus
To indicate the speed of Earth through ether's rigid lattice. You see,
electromagnetism moves through outer space,
And it moves, as had been proven, at an astronomic pace.
And, of course, it was "self-evident," and "every schoolboy knew"
That wave motion needs a medium for it to vibrate through.
The speed at which a wave proceeds depends on the rigidity
Of the stuff it's going through, and hence, extreme rapidity
Requires a medium strange indeed: it must be inelastic,
While still allowing matter through--this stuff must be fantastic! So
even though no evidence had ever been presented,
The existence of this "ether" that the physics world invented
Had so taken scientists by storm that no one ever thought
The idea might be wrong, and it would shortly come to naught. Well,
Michelson and Morley, they believed it like the rest,
And set about to prove its truth, and so conceived a test
Which split a beam of light, and at right angles them aligned,
To show the interference patterns when they recombined. So
Michelson and Morley, they set up a granite slab,
And floated it on mercury they'd gotten from the lab.
They put a light source on the top, some mirrors, and a splitter;
With bated breath, they lit the lamp, their eyes were all a-glitter.
They looked upon the tiny screen at interference fringes
(When a pair of out-of-phase beams on a screen impinges).
But the fringes wouldn't shift at all, at that or any angle
To which they turned their optics bench, their massive stone
rectangle. This history-making failure was truly quite successful,
Although for these two scientists, I'm sure 'twas very stressful.
The lesson that I hope we've learned, as connoisseurs of science,
Is that truth, and not assumptions, make with us the best alliance.
m, 10/18/04, 10/18/04
michelson.jpg, 10/18/04, 10/18/04, 10/18/04
SpecRel.html#MMExpt, 10/18/04,
By Natalie Valentine, adapted from an earlier presentation