It appears that John Hasbrouck Van Vleck was the first American-born Dutch American to be awarded the Nobel Prize. He was co-awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1977, for his contributions to the understanding of the behavior of electrons in magnetic solids, also known as the foundation for the quantum theory of para-magnetism. The award arrived at his ripe old age of 78, just three years before he passed away. His co-awardees were Philip W. Anderson, a student of Van Vleck at Harvard, and Sir Neville Mott.
Van Vleck is regarded as the founder of the modern quantum mechanical theory of magnetism. He developed the concept of temperature-independent susceptibility, which became known as Van Vleck para-magnetism.
During World War II, Van Vleck worked on radar showing that at certain wavelengths troublesome conditions occurred, which affected the effectiveness of radar. The above condition had important consequences for military radar systems, and later for the new science of radio-astronomy.
Van Vleck earned his doctorate in physics from Harvard University, in 1922. While a doctoral student, he turned to theoretical physics, a new field at that time. His doctoral dissertation is considered to be the first American paper on a theoretical physics subject, in this case the ionization energy of the helium atom. The paper was so cutting edge that Harvard offered him a teaching position. And a year later, he joined the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor. After five years at Minnesota, in 1928, Van Vleck was offered a position as full professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, his alma mater.
During his early academic years, Van Vleck wrote his first academic book entitled, “Quantum Principles and Line Spectra”. And in 1932, he wrote another academic book entitled, “The Theory of Electric and Magnetic Susceptibilities”. It was for this work that Van Vleck would be awarded a share in the Nobel Prize in 1977, nearly 50 years later. The work in this book also earned Van Vleck the title of “The Father of Modern Magnetism”.
In 1934, the Harvard faculty decided they wanted Van Vleck back on its faculty, and he and his family relocated back to Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the World War II years he served on a government-appointed committee to investigate the feasibility of a nuclear bomb. The work of this committee eventually resulted in the Manhattan Project. During the later war years, Van Vleck worked on radar at the Radio Research Laboratory of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Following the war, in 1951, Van Vleck was appointed to a Harvard Chair, the oldest endowed Chair in North America. Van Vleck became the Hollis Professor of Mathematical and Natural Philosophy, a position he held until his retirement in 1969.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Van Vleck was awarded a number of other honors during his academic career. In the 1961-1962 academic year, he was the George Eastman Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford, and held a Professorship at Balliol College. In 1966, Van Vleck was awarded the National Medal of Science, and in 1974, he received the Lorentz Medal. Also, in 1936, Van Vleck was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree by Wesleyan University.
As a hobby, Van Vleck and his wife were important art collectors in the medium of woodblock prints, including more than 2000 prints by the famous Japanese print maker Utagawa Hiroshige. In the 1980’s they donated their entire art collection to the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin.
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck was born in Middletown, Connecticut on March 13, 1999. His father, Edward Burr van Vleck, was also an academician, an astronomer, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. John Hasbrouck Van Vleck passed away on October 27, 1980, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the place where he had spent much of his life
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, Absolute Astronomy,http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/John_Hasbrouck_Van_Vleck
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, Answers.com, http://www.answers.com/topic/john-hasbrouck-van-vleck
John Hasbrouck Van Vleck, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_H._Van_Vleck
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