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Albert Abraham Michelson Edit Profile


Albert Abraham Michelson was the first American scientist and the first American Jew to receive the Nobel Prize.


Born in Strelno, Germany, he emigrated with his family to the United States when he was three. His parents lived in Murphy’s Camp, a small mining town in the mountains of California, and sent him to school in San Francisco.


By the time Michelson had finished school, his family had moved to Nevada, and he applied for admission to the naval academy when there was a vacancy in Nevada’s quota. Failing to get an appointment, he went to Washington D.C. to try for one of ten “at large” places awarded by the president. Although the ten places had been filled. President Ulysses Grant made an exception and awarded him an eleventh place.


It was at the naval academy that Michelson discovered his talent for physics, and upon graduating, after doing his duty as a midshipman for two years, he was made an instructor in physics and chemistry at the academy in Annapolis, Maryland (1875-1879). In 1877, while preparing for a lecture, he discovered an unprecedented accurate method for measuring the speed of light.

Internationally famous for this discovery by the age of twenty-six, Michelson left the naval academy in 1879 and after a vearat the Nautical Almanac in Washington, went to study in Europe.

Michelson was professor of physics at the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio (1883-1889) and at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts (1889-1892); from 1892 to 1929 was the first professor of physics at the University of Chicago.

From 1923 to 1927, he was president of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1929 he retired to Pasadena, California, where he continued to work until his death.


  • While he was in Berlin he began one of his most important experiments: the attempt to measure the relative motion of earth through the ether (that was then assumed to pervade all space). In the course of these investigations he developed the interferometer, an extremely sensitive optical instrument for measuring velocity, which also made it possible to measure the diameters of the stars for the first time. Michclson’s failure, in 1887 to detect the movement of the earth through the ether, led to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.


Fellow American Academy Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Member numerous scientific societies.


Samuel Michelson

Rosalie (Przlubska) Michelson

Edna Stanton