Willis Lamb

Willis Lamb

Willis Lamb
Born Willis Eugene Lamb, Jr.
(1913-07-12)July 12, 1913
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died May 15, 2008(2008-05-15) (aged 94)
Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Arizona
University of Oxford
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Doctoral advisor J. Robert Oppenheimer
Doctoral students Theodore Maiman
Marlan Scully
Balázs László Győrffy
Frederick Hopf
Murray Sargent III
Stanley L. Kaufman
David Mader
Ralph Jacobs
Known for Lamb shift
Laser Theory
Quantum Optics
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1955)

Willis Eugene Lamb, Jr. (July 12, 1913 – May 15, 2008) was an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955 "for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum." The Nobel Committee that year awarded half the prize to Lamb and the other half to Polykarp Kusch, who won "for his precision determination of the magnetic moment of the electron." Lamb was able to determine precisely a surprising shift in electron energies in a hydrogen atom (see Lamb shift). Lamb was a professor at the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences.


  • Biography 1
  • Personal 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Lamb was born in Los Angeles, California, United States and attended Los Angeles High School. First admitted in 1930, he received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1934. For theoretical work on scattering of neutrons by a crystal, guided by J. Robert Oppenheimer, he received the Ph.D. in physics in 1938.[1] Because of limited computational methods available at the time, this research narrowly missed revealing the Mössbauer Effect, 19 years before its recognition by Mössbauer.[2] He worked on nuclear theory, laser physics, and verifying quantum mechanics.

Lamb was the Wykeham Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford from 1956 to 1962, and also taught at Yale, Columbia, Stanford and the University of Arizona. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963.[3]

Lamb is remembered as a "gifted experimentalist, and theoretician, in the best Newtonian tradition"[4] and referred to as a "rare theorist turned experimentalist."[5] In the latter part of his career he paid increasing attention to the field of quantum measurements.[4] Lamb was also openly critical of many of the interpretational trends on quantum mechanics.[6]


Lamb married his first wife, Ursula Schaefer, a German student, in 1939. After her death he married physicist Bruria Kaufman in 1996, whom he later divorced. In 2008 he married Elsie Wattson.

Lamb died on May 15, 2008, at the age of 94,[2] due to complications of a gallstone disorder.


  1. ^ Stiles, Lori (May 16, 2008). "Willis E. Lamb Jr., 1955 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Dies at 94". The University of Arizona News. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Holley, Joe (May 19, 2008). "Willis E. Lamb Jr., 94; Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter L" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b F. J. Duarte, Laser Physicist (Optics Journal, New York, 2012).
  5. ^ D. Kaiser, Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams (University of Chicago, Chicago, 2005).
  6. ^ W. E. Lamb, Super classical quantum mechanics: the best interpretation of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, Am. J. Phys. 69, 413-421 (2001).

External links

  • Biography and Bibliographic Resources, from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information
  • Obituary, University of Arizona, 16 May, 2008.
  • Hans Bethe talking about Willis Lamb (video)
  • Willis E Lamb Award for Laser Science and Quantum Optics.
  • Nobel lecture
  • Collection of articles and group photograph (This photograph taken at Lasers '92 includes, right to left, Marlan Scully, W. E. Lamb, John L. Hall, and F. J. Duarte).
  • Obituary:Willis E. Lamb Jr., 94; Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir