Albert Abraham Michelson (18521931)
 


Albert Abraham Michelson was born to a Jewish family in 1852 in Strelno, Prussia. When Michelson was two, his family moved to the United States, settling first in Virginia City Nevada and then moving to San Francisco. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy and later became an instructor there. He went to Europe for advanced study but returned to the United States in 1883 to become a Professor of Physics at the Case School of Applied Science in Ohio. Later he had appointments at Clark University, the University of Chicago, served again in the Navy during World War I, and then worked at Cal Tech and the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California. Michelson was a gifted experimentalist who did extremely precise experiments in optics. For example, he was the first to measure the diameter of a distant star(Betelgeuse). He was awarded the Nobel prize in 1907 for inventing optical instruments and measuring the speed of light. He was the first American scientist to be so honored. Yet he is best known for an experiment that he considered to be a failure. Alone (in 1881), and later in collaboration with Edward Morley, he attempted to detect the motion of the Earth relative to the ether. He was surprised when this experiment, of exquisite sensitivity, failed to detect the "ether wind". This experiment created a conundrum for Physics that ultimately could not be resolved with the Newtonian world-view.

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