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Albert A. Michelson
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Scientist
    (December 19, 1852-May 9, 1931)
    Born in Strzelno, Poland
    Birth name was Albert Abraham Michelson
    Came to the US with his family (1855)
    Grew up in Murphy's Camp, California, and Virginia City, Nevada
    Professor of physics at the US Naval Academy (1875-79), Case Western Reserve University (1883-89), Clark University (1889-92) and the University of Chicago (1892-1929)
    Known for his work in optics
    Invented an improved interferometer that he used to measure the speed of light
    With Edward Morley conducted the Michelson-Morley experiment (1887) that measured the speed of light in perpendicular directions to detect the relative motion of Earth through 'luminous ether' (a substance thought to permeate the universe that light propagated through)
    Found, contrary to expectations, that the speed of light was the same in both directions, suggesting that luminous ether did not exist
    President of the National Academy of Sciences (1923-27)
    Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics (1907)
    As a student at the US Naval Academy, he was significantly below average in seamanship.
    He declared, 'Most of the grand underlying principles [of physics] have been firmly established' (1896), less than a decade before quantum theory and relativity turned the discipline upside down.
    For extra irony, the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment were one of the inspirations for the revolution in physics.
    The Michelson-Morley experiment was described as 'the moving-off point for the theoretical aspects of the Second Scientific Revolution.'
    The results of the experiment supported Einstein's Theory of Relativity in which the speed of light remains a constant.
    He was the first American citizen to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences.
    He was a character in an episode of Bonanza, in which Ben Cartwright helps him obtain an appointment to Annapolis, despite opposition from a bigoted teacher.

Credit: C. Fishel


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