Videos :: Nimitz Library :: USNA

Nimitz Library

Videos and Transcripts

Personal Life and Interests ( Michelson Painting)

play video [Michelson sitting in a garden, painting with watercolors]

Albert Michelson was a man of many interests; he excelled in tennis, bridge, chess, and billiards. His artistic ability extended beyond his scientific work into the fields of painting and music. This candid glimpse of him enjoying his favorite pastime of watercolor painting, was taken in Pasadena about 1930. Michelson loved music, and was himself a proficient amateur violinist.

[Close up of Michelson's watercolor]

The music which you are hearing was composed by him for his grandchildren; "Grandpa's Lullaby" is what he named it. Painting had been a hobby of his ever since the Naval Academy period. In 1928, the Renaissance Society of Chicago sponsored a one man exhibit of his watercolors. During the last ten years of his life, he divided his time between scientific investigations and painting trips to the beaches, arroyos, and mountains. This was Albert Abraham Michelson, scientist, artist, musician, teacher; America's first Nobel Prize winner in science.

[Close up of Michelson's face smiling]

The man who pursued physics because, as he put it, "It's such good fun."

Career and Influence ( Michelson demonstrating the equipment used in determining the velocity of light)

play video  [Prof. Michelson sitting down demonstrating equipment]

The second candid glimpse of Professor Michelson shows him demonstrating some of the equipment to be used in the measurement of the velocity of light. Preliminary tests were conducted in 1929 at Ross Field, Arcadia, California. For the benefit of the camera man, Michelson is exaggerating the movement of the eyepiece, as he pretends to scan the small rotating mirror in the upper right hand corner of the frame to locate the path of the returning beam of light. In normal operation, this very accurately constructed rotating mirror, the heart of the experiment, is spun at nearly 44,000 revolutions per minute.

[Michelson gets up to adjust plane mirror]

Next, Michelson demonstrates the adjustment of one of the plane mirrors that was later to go into the mile long vacuum tube, not used during these preliminary tests.

[Michelson adjusts mirror – photographer can be seen in the mirror's reflection]

Here the concave mirror is being adjusted. Judging by the image in the mirror, the photographer was using a hand-crank camera. This mirror was also incorporated into the vacuum tube assembly during the actual experiments conducted later at the Irvine Ranch near Santa Anna.

[Michelson examines rotating mirror taken out of normal configuration]

To better demonstrate operation of the rotating mirror, it was here removed from its normal position, in line with the eyepiece, and propped up with a stone to catch the sun's rays. Michelson received recognition for his method of determining the velocity of light in 1878 while at the Naval Academy. He was still refining the measurements when he died in 1931.

go to Top