Introduction :: Nimitz Library :: USNA

Nimitz Library

Albert A. Michelson: Introduction

"My greatest inspiration is a challenge to attempt the impossible." -- Albert A. Michelson

Albert A. Michelson, USNA Class of 1873, was one of the giants in the scientific world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was born on December 19, 1852 in Strelno, Prussia. When he was two, his parents moved to the United States. He grew up in Murphys, California and in 1873 graduated from the United States Naval Academy. Michelson maintained a teaching career as a professor of physics at various institutions, beginning that career at the Naval Academy in 1875. He was the second American citizen, and the first American scientist, to become a Nobel Laureate, receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1907.

Michelson made great strides in the field of physics. His precise measurements of the velocity of light, itself a major scientific contribution, made possible Einstein's theory of relativity. The velocity of light is the constant "c" in the equation E=mc2. Michelson's research also advanced other related fields such as optics, spectroscopy, metrology, astronomy, and geophysics. Michelson was a notable physicist, teacher and remarkable man, whose personal interests ranged from billiards and chess to painting and music. He married twice and had three children from each marriage. Albert A. Michelson died on May 9, 1931, at the age of 78, in Pasadena, California.

Colors of thin films and interference phenomena

Colors of thin films and interference phenomena - Plate I from Michelson's book Light Waves and their Uses, first published in 1903. [441K]

Michelson seated at his desk in the Rhyerson Physical laboratory about 1927

Albert A. Michelson, about 1927, seated at his desk in Room 27, Ryerson Physical Laboratory, the University of Chicago, with one of his revolving mirrors used in the 1926 velocity of light experiment. [1098K]

Notes from one of Michelson’s notebooks, no date given

Notes from one of Michelson's notebooks, n.d. [1072K]

go to Top