Willis Lamb
Lamb in 1955
Willis Eugene Lamb Jr.

(1913-07-12)July 12, 1913
DiedMay 15, 2008(2008-05-15) (aged 94)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Known forLamb shift
Lamb–Mössbauer factor
Laser Theory
Quantum Optics
AwardsNational Medal of Science (2000)
Einstein Prize for Laser Science (1982)
Guthrie Lecture (1958)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1955)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Arizona
University of Oxford
Yale University
Columbia University
Stanford University
Thesis I. On the Capture of Slow Neutrons in Hydrogenuous Substances, II. Electromagnetic Properties of Nuclear Systems  (1938)
Doctoral advisorJ. Robert Oppenheimer
Doctoral studentsBernard Feld (1945)
Robert Retherford (1947)
Norman Kroll (1948)
Theodore Maiman (1955)
Marlan Scully (1966)
Balázs László Győrffy (1966)

Willis Eugene Lamb Jr. (/læm/; 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 precisely determine 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.


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 a physics professor at Stanford from 1951 to 1956.[3] Lamb was the Wykeham Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford from 1956 to 1962, and also taught at Yale, Columbia and the University of Arizona. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963.[4]

Lamb is remembered as a "rare theorist turned experimentalist" by D. Kaiser.[5]

Quantum physics

In addition to his crucial and famous contribution to quantum electrodynamics via the Lamb shift, in the latter part of his career he paid increasing attention to the field of quantum measurements.[6][7][8] In one of his writings Lamb stated that "most people who use quantum mechanics have little need to know much about the interpretation of the subject."[8] Lamb was also openly critical of many of the interpretational trends on quantum mechanics[9] and of the use of the term photon.[10]


In 1939 Lamb married his first wife, Ursula Schäfer, a German student, who became a distinguished historian of Latin America (and assumed his last name).[11][12] After her death in 1996, 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. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved September 27, 2012.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  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. ^ Stanford Report, "Other Nobel connections to the Farm," Oct. 3, 2001
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter L" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  5. ^ D. Kaiser, Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams (University of Chicago, Chicago, 2005).
  6. ^ Lamb, W. E. Jr.; Retherford, R. C. (1947). "Fine Structure of the Hydrogen Atom by a Microwave Method". Physical Review. 72 (3): 241–243. Bibcode:1947PhRv...72..241R. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.72.241.
  7. ^ W. E. Lamb, Quantum theory of measurement, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 480, 407-416 (1986).
  8. ^ a b W. E. Lamb, Quantum theory of measurement, in Noise and Chaos in Nonlinear Dynamical Systems (Cambridge University, Cambridge, 1990) pp. 1-14.
  9. ^ W. E. Lamb, Super classical quantum mechanics: the best interpretation of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, Am. J. Phys. 69, 413-421 (2001)
  10. ^ Lamb, Willis E. "Anti-photon." Applied Physics B 60 (1995): 77-84.
  11. ^ Andreas Daum, Hartmut Lehmann, James Sheehan (eds.), The Second Generation: Émigrés from Nazi Germany as Historians. With a Biobibliographic Guide. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016, ISBN 978-1-78238-985-9, 12, 34, 36, 398‒99.
  12. ^ "Ursula Lamb, UA historian, dies at 82". Archived from the original on 2015-04-05. Retrieved 2015-03-22. accessed 5 July 2016.