Nicolaas Bloembergen, Professor of Physics at Harvard University, is one of five Dutch Americans, who have won the Nobel Prize. In 1981, Professor Bloembergen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, jointly with two others, for their accomplishments in the field of physics, and specifically for: “Contributions to the Development of Laser and Electron Spectroscopy”. The two other scientists with whom he shared the Nobel Prize were Professor Arthur L. Schawlow of Stanford University and Professor Kai M. Siegbahn of Uppsala University in Sweden.
At the time of the award, in 1981, Professor Bloembergen had been on the physics faculty at Harvard for 30+ years. During those 30+ years, he had been a Fellow from 1949 to 1951, an Associate Professor from 1951 to 1957, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics from 1957 to 1980, as well as the Rumford Professor of Physics from 1974 to 1980. From 1980 to 1990, he was the Gerhard Gade University Professor, and since 1990 the Gerhard Gade University Professor Emeritus. Since 2001, Professor Bloembergen has also been the Honorary Professor of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.
Professor Bloembergen was born in the city of Dordrecht, the Netherlands, on March 11, 1920, where his father, a chemical engineer, was an executive in a chemical fertilizer plant. While he was a child, the family moved to a suburb of the city of Utrecht, and at age 18, he was accepted at the University of Utrecht to study physics. He was fortunate to be able to participate in research projects at an early stage of his university studies, and was able to co-author his first published research paper in physics at age 20.
In 1940, when Bloembergen was 20 years old, the five year period of Nazi occupation began for the Dutch. In the early years of the occupation, universities were able to continue their activities, albeit under close control of the hated oppressors. Bloembergen, again was fortunate, and was able to complete the requirement for his M. S. degree in physics by 1943. Shortly after he received his degree, the university was shut down by the Nazis. During the remainder of the occupation period, until May 1945, he was able to hide and avoid being sent as a slave laborer to work in the German armaments industry.
Following the war, in 1945, he applied for and, after several attempts, was accepted in the doctoral program in physics at Harvard University. With his parents’ financial help he was able to finance his early studies, and felt that the move to the U. S. for graduate work was the right one for him. He quickly became involved with three researchers who had just detected nuclear magnetic resonance [NMR] in condensed matter. He was accepted as a graduate assistant to develop the early NMR apparatus. On the basis of his work with the NMR researchers he became a co-author of one of the most-cited papers in physics. The paper was published in 1948.
Also in 1948, Bloembergen completed his dissertation entitled, “Nuclear Magnetic Relaxation”. During the years 1947 and 1948, he spent time doing research at both Harvard University and the University of Leiden. His dissertation advisor was a professor from the University of Leiden, on leave at Harvard, during the 1947 academic year. As a result of these circumstances, it was decided that his Ph. D. Degree in Physics would be granted through the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
Following his doctoral studies he was invited to do postdoctoral work at the Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratorium at the University of Leiden. He remained there until the following year, 1949, when he was offered to become a fellow in the physics department of Harvard University. And it was there that Bloembergen would spend most of the remainder of his academic career, and would do the work required to earn the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1981.
Bloembergen met Huberta Deliana Brink in 1948, and they got married in1950. She was born in Indonesia from Dutch parents, and had spent the war in a Japanese concentration camp. Both he and his wife became U. S. citizens in 1958. The couple has three children, two daughters, Antonia and Juliana, and a son, Brink.
During their sabbatical leaves, professors usually visit other universities. Professsor Bloembergen did his share of travel and visiting. In 1955 he was a Guggenheim Fellow and Visiting Lecturer at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. During the 1964-1965 year, he was a Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1973, he was the Lorentz Guest Professor at his alma mater, the University of Leiden. In the 1979-1980 year, he spent the fall semester as a Raman Visiting Professor in Bangalore, India. And in the first semester of 1980, he was the Von Humboldt Senior Scientist in the Institut fur Quantum Optik, in Garching, Germany, and also was a Visiting Professor at the College of France in Paris.
Bloembergen was honored, among others, by being named a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1956, and a Guggenheim Fellow in 1957. He received the Oliver Buckley Prize from the American Physical Society in 1958, the Morris E. Liebman Award from the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1959, and the Stuart Ballentine Medal from the Franklin Institute in 1961. Later he received the National Medal of Science from the President of the United States in 1974, the Frederic Ives Medal from the Optical Society of America in 1979, the Lorentz Medal from the Royal Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam in 1979, and the Medal of Honor from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in 1983.
Professor Bloembergen also received several honorary doctorate degrees, from Laval University in Quebec City, Canada in 1991, from the University of Connecticut, also in 1991, from the University of Hartford, Connecticut, also in 1991, from Moscow State University, Russia, in 1997 and from Harvard University in 2000.
Professor Bloembergen, of course, received the ultimate honor for an academic, a scientist and a consummate researcher, the Nobel Prize, from the Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway in 1981.
Note: The author has recently written and published six non-fiction E-books which are available for $2.99 each on the Amazon Kindle web site. Google Amazon Kindle Store, Pegels.
Nicolaas Bloembergen, nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1981
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